Sometime around 1987 or 1988, when I was a student at the North Carolina State University School of Design, I took Polaroids of type and lettering on my family's hatching egg farm in North Carolina. The "2" and "3" were stencils I cut years before to number the chicken houses, and they remind me of the typeface Balance. Good hatching eggs went into the sturdy waxed cardboard boxes with numbers stenciled on them.

Finnish Christmas cards

How many ways can you photograph candles? Christmas card designers in Finland in the late 60s and early 70s showed how it's done.

I bought these a few years ago in an antique store in Helsinki. My favorite has a die cut that reveals Santa's saucy helper... and a cup of coffee. Very Scandinavian. 

Hyvää Joulua! 

I Was Like So Scared

This summer I visited the Bronx zoo with my niece. One of our goals was to find the snakes because she is scared of them. The snakes, safely behind glass, arouse just enough primal repulsion to be titillating. Other kids seemed to be doing the same, playfully looking for the "scariest" animals so they could shriek and shudder and bond over emotions that can be laughed about later.

The trip inspired a set of prints about how we think about animals. I printed these at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum last August, with wood type on old educational images.

After making the prints I read John Berger's Why Look at Animals and was surprised to find that he used one of the words I did, the word SPECTACLE. For instance, he wrote: "The animals of the mind, instead of being dispersed, have been co-opted into other categories so that the category animal has lost its central importance. Mostly they have been co-opted into the family and into the spectacle." When I combined the word with a picture of a hippo, I was thinking of the tendency to anthropomorphize hippos as silly, entertaining fatties.

Berger nails the tragedy of zoos: "However you look at these animals, even if the animal is up against the bars, less than a foot from you, looking outwards in the public direction, you are looking at something that has been rendered absolutely marginal..."

photos by Bill Deere

Cemetery Signs in Kansas

Many nineteenth-century rural cemeteries in Kansas are marked with arched metal gateways and various forms of lettering. The spindly arch to Prairie Lawn Cemetery in Wellington covers an impressive span, while tiny, hard-to-find Mt. Hope Cemetery, near Arkansas City, resorts to wooden letters attached to the fence. The Argonia Cemetery sign shows delicate Aesthetic Movement ornament and the Conway Springs Cemetery sign uses the now rarely-used typeface DeVinne.

A Revelation in Westchester

Last weekend Bill and I explored the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, which is a short drive from Manhattan into Westchester County. The Jewish parts of the ethnically diverse cemetery held some pleasant surprises; we found sleek designs that make granite look surprisingly good, as well as traditional symbols, forms, and placement that are new to me. Finally, some well-designed, modern gravestones! The crisp afternoon light and fall foliage enhanced the scene. Following are some of our best photographs.

I'll bet an architect designed this one.
Shellee probably dressed all in black and wore chunky jewelry.
The cemetery service sticker becomes obtrusive on such a minimal stone. 

A poignant stone for a four-year-old.

Nice scripts, which feel oddly commercial. They appeared on stones with Jewish and Italian names.
Unusually rusticated letters that look unfinished.

A hybrid Art Deco / Arts & Crafts stone. 
The lettering style looks older than the dates. 
The density of stones on some crowded Jewish sections reminds me of Roman Vishniac photos. 

The mausoleums are posh.
Stained glass windows glow behind mausoleum doors.

Kansas Gravestone Lettering

Some gravestone lettering from the 1870s and '80s is as complex as the "artistic" print design of the same time, which I have written about with Angela Voulangas (our book). Letters curve, fit in containers, stretch and grow, and mix with a variety of ornaments, like artistic letterpress printing. The best examples of this kind of inscriptional lettering that I have found so far are in and around Wichita, Kansas. Where did these letterforms come from? How widespread was this kind of labor-intensive, intricate stone cutting? I can't wait to find out; research is ongoing. Here are some finds. (all photos ©Doug Clouse)