Looking back, looking forward

Looking back to look ahead: From the Year of the Dog to the Year of the Pig

2018 was a year of milestones for the Chinese heritage type restoration project. We hit the ground running just after Chinese New Year with a research trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong, tracing the lineage and history of our types.

In June, just before Wai-te-ata Press closed for earthquake strengthening, we consolidated the connections forged during our research trip by hosting Professor Wu Tsu-Ming ((吳祖銘/Anthony) from National Taiwan Normal University. As the author of a report on the development of letterpress technologies within Taiwan from 1930-1990《1930~1990年代的台灣活版印刷發展之研究》, Prof. Wu proved a fount of knowledge. In particular, he generously shared high-resolution scans of type-case layout diagrams to help us better understand how the heritage type cases were designed and organised.

Wai-te-ata Press hosts visiting scholar Prof. Wu Tsu-Ming. (from left: Duncan Campbell, Sydney Shep, Ya-Wen Ho, Wu Tsu-Ming). Image reproduced courtesy of Wu Tsu-Ming.
A sample page from a Shanghai-styled typecase layout manual (上海式字盤標本), image reproduced courtesy of Wu Tsu-Ming

Our temporary closure afforded different opportunities: on the day of the big move, research assistant Ya-Wen Ho could – for the very first time since its arrival in 2016 – glimpse and photograph individual type cases as the professional movers lifted and relocated each one. She discovered the collection had come with its own font of English type! The relocation of the tonne of type to our temporary offices means imaging and restoration work could continue. As of today, we’ve imaged all the loose pieces of type that were reclaimed from the ground, a grand total of 31,361 pieces!

Professional movers packing up Wai-te-ata Press for earthquake strengthening closure
Discovery of a font of English type among the cases of Chinese heritage type
Rhys Owen settles into our temporary office, next to the tonne of heritage types

Despite our closure, Wai-te-ata Press continued to facilitate knowledge exchange with international conferences. In July, Ya-Wen presented on the Chinese heritage type project and research trip insights at the conference Letterpress printing: past, present, future at the University of Leeds. While in the UK, she undertook research into Hong Kong print trade histories at the British Library, piquing the curiosity of Chinese collections curator Emma Goodliffe. In October, she travelled to South Korea to attend the International Association Printing Museums (IAPM) conference, where she and a number of delegates researching non-Latin letterpress extended the already-rich conference with further visits to South Korean type foundries.

A visit to Museum of Books and Printing, (책과인쇄박물관) Chuncheon, South Korea. From left: Nelly Gable, Jeon Yongtae, Annie Bocel, Victor Thibout

Throughout the year, Ya-Wen, Sydney, and Wai-te-ata Press’ technical lead Rhys Owen supervised a third-year Engineering project with six students. “Wrestling with Qilin” focused on new computational methods of recognising characters in the digitised Chinese Growers’ newspapers. Having access to the original types and the foundry catalogue from which they were ordered made for an exciting, though challenging, project that was presented at EuropeanaTech in Rotterdam, the National Digital Forum in Wellington, and later published in Europeana’s Insight international journal.

Technical lead Rhys Owen and engineering student Andrew McGhie present at the National Digital Forum

While on sabbatical at the University of Southampton, UK, Wai-te-ata Press Printer Dr Sydney Shep spoke about the Chinese heritage types in a public lecture in October at the Institute of Historical Research in London. In late November, she visited Bath Spa University to view their collection donated by the Ri-Xin type foundry in Taipei which we had visited earlier in the year. Colleagues were eager to find out what to do with their collection, and we were able to share our vision and community engagement focus.

Research assistant Ya-Wen Ho demonstrates hand-setting type at Enjoy Public Art Gallery

On the local front, we hosted visits and took the project into the world via articles and artist talks. In September, the Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui catalysed a flurry of activity. Emma Ng, author of Old Asian, New Asian, was inspired by the types and wrote a moving article, which, in turn, inspired historian Joanna Boileau to visit the type collection and discuss New Zealand Chinese material culture. In her adjacent role as writer-in-residence at Enjoy Public Art Gallery’s exhibition A Working Week, Ya-Wen gave several talks as well hands-on letterpress print-making engagements, in which a tiny handful of Chinese type in her private collection became tactile advocates of its cousins here at Wai-te-ata Press.

This year, we will continue to move from strength to strength, delivering on milestones towards our vision of a Chinese Scholars’ Studio. We anticipate reopening Wai-te-ata Press in April and look forward to hosting our annual Moon Festival back at home.

Gong hei fat choy

Ya-Wen, Sydney, Duncan, and Rhys

Wai-te-ata Press, Victoria University of Wellington