The pilot program for the Hebrew Type Intensive was launched in the last week of July 2023, at The Press and Letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler, Skaneateles, New York. A four-day hands-on workshop, it provided an in-depth experience of historical aspects of Jewish printing: type casting, typesetting, and letterpress printing. As this was the inaugural event, we were curious to see where this adventure would take us. One thing that was clear from very early on: it was about to be truly intensive, just as the title promised.
After settling in a lovely bed and breakfast directly across the road from the Bixlers, we kicked off with an evening tour of their studio. Winifred Bixler presented the equipment and shared stories from her more than fifty years of professional experience supporting educational institutions and the artistic work of fine press printers.
The first day started with group introductions in the bed and breakfast living room. We all shared our backgrounds and connection to the Hebrew letter. It was fascinating and exhilarating to learn of the wide, diverse knowledge within the group. This was followed by the first of three Morning Type Talks by Shani Avni, opening with Hebrew incunabula and finishing with Jewish type terminology. We headed over to the Bixler’s studio where Richard Kegler held a letterpress printing demonstration, and Grace Gist, the studio casting technician, followed with a casting demonstration. With that, the participants were ready to start working on their personal projects.
The second day started with a Morning Type Talk covering the challenges involved with printing the Hebrew script. We focused on the lack of an efficient type case layout for Hebrew and its various languages and discussed a recent proposal created for the workshop that can potentially support both Hebrew and Yiddish. With the first day devoted to casting the 220 Monotype Peninim 14pt for composition, the second day was dedicated to casting the same typeface, size 24pt, on the Display Super Caster.
In the afternoon, Geri McCormick and Jim Grieshaber from Virgin Wood Type gave a presentation on the Hebrew wood type they produced for the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection. They showed historic patterns from their collection and shared the process of making wood type.
Following the visit, the participants continued typesetting, proofing, and printing their work, with guidance from the instructors and additional support from Seth Gottlieb.
The third day of the workshop started with the final Morning Type Talk which covered the history of Bixler’s extremely rare collection of Hebrew/Yiddish matrix sets. These English Monotype matrices were used for casting metal type for the American Jewish press as it was emerging in the 1900s and had a crucial influence on Jewish typeface design as we know it today.
Coming from different backgrounds with varying levels of printing experience, each and every participant planned an ambitious print of their chosen Hebrew or Yiddish text. Not shying away from dealing with additional challenges and under a strict deadline, they engaged with combining metal and wood type, setting Hebrew with Latin, adding the Hebrew diacritic marks (niqqud), and exploring color options. With great focus and dedication, all of them completed the impressive portfolio just in time to share with visitors at our open house reception.
We spent the last morning assembling the portfolio. We sat around the big table in the studio and each participant shared a few words about their process and outcome. We were impressed and moved by the achievements, the conversations, the connections, and all that was created in the short and demanding time we spent together.
An edition of 12 was produced with prints by Lynne Avadenka, Robyn Awend, Sophie Edelhart, Barbara Mann, Noam Sienna, and Nancy Sinkoff.
With support from APHA, The Upstate NY Chapter of APHA, and the Delmas Foundation, a chapbook will be published that will document the proceedings and feature specimens of the type produced at this workshop.