The Alphabet – a collaborative type project

On Monday the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise, a daily newspaper published in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, looked a little different. A large letter ‘A’ introduced the first in a series of artworks set to feature on every single edition of the paper over the coming month. The collaborative alphabet is the work of artist Anna Schuleit Haber and 26 international typographers

Matthew Carter’s ‘D’ on the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise

On Monday the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise, a daily newspaper published in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, looked a little different. A large letter ‘A’ introduced the first in a series of artworks set to feature on every single edition of the paper over the coming month. The collaborative alphabet is the work of artist Anna Schuleit Haber and 26 international typographers…

The Fitchburg Art Museum initially commissioned Schuleit Haber to create a new piece of public art. Using the city’s foremost local newspaper as a canvas, The Alphabet will run from from July 13 until August 11 and feature all 26 letters on the Sentinel’s front page.

The paper has a weekday print run of 14,000 copies and this morning’s edition will feature an ‘E’ by Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens, while yesterday’s ‘D’ (see bottom of post) came courtesy of type legend, Matthew Carter.

The newspaper’s ‘A’ was created by Felix Salut

“This project is envisioned to be a creative ‘take-over’ of the normal scope of the news,” says Schuleit Haber.

“By using the public realm that the newspaper inhabits – the civic space, the metaphorical main street of our daily news – we want to invite readers to pause and reflect, to engage, and to immerse themselves in this limited edition of art, design, and newsmaking on the front pages of the newspaper. Each of the 26 days will be a surprise.”

Anna Schuleit Haber, right, checking the first edition at the printers

According to the artist, each letterform defines the day’s front page which also includes news and “found urban stories” which have been created in collaboration with citizens, writers, poets, high school and college students from the local area.

Kicking the project off on Monday of this week, the ‘A’ was created by Felix Salut from Amsterdam, the ‘B’ by Andreas Schenk (Basel), while Wednesday’s front page featured a ‘C’ by Daniel Keleher (Hadley, MA) which also appeared alongside several old logos of Fitchburg companies.

The ‘B’ by Andreas Schenk

The ‘C’ by Daniel Keleher

Matthew Carter, who worked on Thursday’s ‘D’ edition of the newspaper explained his process in some detail:

“Today’s letter ‘D’ is the production drawing of the capital ‘D’ from the typeface Snell Roundhand which was produced in 1966 as a photocomposition font by Mergenthaler Linotype in Brooklyn, NY, where I was then working as a staff designer,” he explained.

“The drawing is in India ink on scratchboard. The letter is a little over five inches high. After the font was manufactured somebody in the factory managed to get photographic opaquing paint on the drawing. It was sent back to me to have the red streaks removed, and no doubt I intended to do this, but meanwhile I put it in a box where it remained forgotten until I found it again 40 years later.

“In the early 1980s Linotype ceased making photocomposition equipment and fonts; the department was dismantled and my drawings for Snell and several other typefaces went into the dumpster. I had left Linotype a few years before and had no knowledge of this.

“Back in 1966 I was annoyed when I saw the damage done to my drawing of the ‘D’, but now I’m grateful that somebody’s clumsiness caused the drawing to survive, the only one from that whole period of my life. Snell Roundhand is still very much in use today as a digital font.”

Five letters in, the project has a long way to go yet. But in another three weeks loyal readers of the Sentinel & Enterprise will have a complete set of limited edition artworks.

The 26 typographers taking part in The Alphabet are as follows:

A – Felix Salut, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
B – Andreas Schenk, Basel, Switzerland
C – Dan Keleher, South Hadley, MA
D – Matthew Carter, Cambridge, MA
E – Shoko Mugikura + Tim Ahrens, Garching, Germany
F – Nina Stoessinger, Den Haag, The Netherlands
G – Cyrus Highsmith, Providence, RI
H – Laura Meseguer, Barcelona, Spain
I – Therese Schuleit, Beirut, Lebanon
J – Joe Riedel, Northampton, MA
K – Francesca Bolognini, Cambridge, MA
L – Anna Schuleit Haber, New Orleans
M – Franz Werner, Providence, RI
N – Frank Grießhammer, CA
O – Russell Maret, New York, NY
P – Barry Moser, North Hatfield, MA
Q – Pam Glaven, Northampton, MA
R – Nick Benson, Newport, RI
S – Indra Kupferschmid, Saarbrücken, Germany
T – Geri McCormick, Rochester, NY
U – Catherine Griffiths, Auckland, New Zealand
V – Stephen Goldstein, Ipswich, MA
W – Nicole Dotin, Golden Valley, MN
X – Nico Bergmann, Cologne, Germany
Y – Esen Karol, Istanbul, Turkey
Z – Akira Kobayashi, Germany

The project will also be exhibited in the Fitchburg Art Museum as the series unfolds (it has been funded by an NEA Our Town grant), while 100 numbered, limited-edition artist sets of the entire project will be available for pre-order via annaschuleit.wordpress.com.

Details on the printing and design processes will appear daily at fitchburgalphabet.wordpress.com, while #fitchburgalphabet will provide updates on the project via Twitter, alongside twitter.com/schuleithaber. More of Schuleit Haber’s work is at anna-schuleit.com.

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