MFA in Germany, or how I learned to love type and master the cat nap

Today’s lesson, brought to you from the MFA program at Texas State, is the power nap. When your days are filled with over 20,000 steps, it can be very tiring. Add to this waking up to meet for breakfast at 7:00, and going to bed close to midnight, it makes the days very long. Not to mention being in another country pushes you to visit as much as possible, making sure you are maximizing the day. So when you catch a high speed train to Bad Homburg, you take advantage of the downtime by writing the blog post, or napping. With the majority doing the latter.

Our first stop of the day is Monotype.

Who exactly is Monotype? Monotype created a namesake machine that became the first fully mechanical typesetter (Gutenberg would be so proud). And it goes beyond that; they have created handfuls of typefaces like Times New Roman and Arial two colloquial fonts with whom even non-designers are familiar.

Henning Krause, Manager and Font Engineer met us in the lobby of the 4 story building. We shuffled into a conference room, with glossy red tables displaying the history of typography. There were punch letters, aluminum castings of Helvetica, and computer ribbons of Adobe tools. Henning pointed out each item as he spun the history of Monotype and ultimately how typography has changed throughout it’s course. We sat around listening to story after story, nodding with excitement and occasionally scribbling down into our little notepads.

 

“The typography industry mirrors the development of history,”  Henning shared as he pointed out the patterns that have shaped the current typography industry.

There used to be a difference between artist and craftsman, as each was seen as completely separate but now they are one in the same. This is an unbelievable fact as Monotype released over 100,000 glyphs (think individual characters) for one project alone. They average 2,000 to 3,000 products a year and they only have a staff of 500.

The time had come where we said our goodbyes, but not before having the opportunity to ask questions. Henning lit up with enthusiasm with every word he carefully crafted which contained his answer. He gave us insight into the big things Monotype is working on with Variable typography and even his favorite glyph (an asterisk *) because there is always something more and the world has a few assholes.


Our second stop was the Klingspor Museum where we saw some Type Art consisting of lithography posters and books. Lithography plates were created on limestone and could allow the lithographer to use handwriting or painting to create an impression instead of a traditional method like chiseling on a woodblock.

We saw works ranging from 1910 to current including artist like Matisse, Picasso and a German artist, Hölderlin. It was a fun and vibrant exhibit. But all the good stuff was kept upstairs in The ArchiveHelga Horschig — who had a wealth of knowledge and was kind and accommodating to our group of six — escorted us to a table surrounded by history. Books rested in small piles, the titles on the spines calling out to us — as if they were begging to be picked up and admired. Poster and flyers plastered any open counter top that the room may have contained. Helga shuffled over to our table holding an unwavering amount of boxes, the contents unknown to us at the time. With a pair of gloves, she gingerly opened each of the boxes that were delivered so carefully. Much like uncovering buried  treasure, box after box the contents were more valuable.

As each piece was placed on the table surrounded by eager learners, a silence fell over the group. Electricity in the air as every detail came into focus, and then the moment happens. An almost palpable gasp, for each and every item our wonderful librarian placed in front of our eyes.


There were original type drawings and specimen books, calligraphy books in which handwriting was indistinguishable from printed material. It was a showcase of the passion, love and art of typography. Helga could tell she was surrounded by those with an nerdy interest in the subject and we were quickly taken to another portion of this historical depository. Here flat files were brimming with hand stitched type tapestries.

Take a sheet of copy paper and write a sentence and try your best to keep a straight line, and don’t forget to keep all the letters consistent. Now take a 152 cm x 91 cm rug and stitch a sentence. These were immaculate.

After being inspired by an artist Paul Stein who kept art journals for over 30 years, Helga took us back to the table for a few more awe inspired gasps before we had to say Auf Wiedersehen.


At some point, Kelsey even einen kloß im hals haben (started to tear up), so obviously at this point Germany has truly been an inspiring and life changing experience.

We are headed back to home base for the day. Tomorrow we are off to Stuttgart.

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