A museum in Two Rivers is sorting through five semi-trucks worth of special carved wood printing blocks. The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing museum recently bought a collection from a company in Ohio. They don’t even know what they purchased.
Director Jim Moran says donations helped the museum acquire the trove of wood blocks from the Anderson/Enquirer Publishing Company in Ohio.
“It’s a really amazing collection of clowns and freaks and circus animals and everything in between,” says Moran.
Moran says one never can expect what might be in the five semis full of blocks. Some of them date back to the 1800s.
“And you find that it’s everything from a really young photo engraving of Miles Davis to a block that just says, ‘Cheerio’s.’ So it’s all over the place,” explains Moran.
Among the treasures he found was the original “Reefer Madness” poster. “Reefer Madness” is a cult classic film from the 1930’s on the horrors of marijuana.
“This is American art,” says Moran. “The people who carved these blocks were absolutely amazing practitioners of the craft and so the idea that theey might get broken up and spread around the country of possibly trashed because somebody didn’t see that there was any advantage to them is something that we feel is sort of our mission to preserve.”
The woodblocks are hand cut or routed. They include famous hippos, a three legged woman, and gorillas.
“I uncovered a circus poster that measured out to, I don’t know, about 10 by 7 feet,” says Moran. “The face of the gorilla is about three and a half feet square. So I’m already in awe and then I find that and I think, ‘oh what next?”
What’s next for the collection? That’s yet to be determined. Moran has to finish unloading and cataloguing all of it first. But Hamilton is a working museum.
“So rather than merely putting things on display we will oil them up and then ink them so they will become very active in almost the same way when they were new. This stuff looks great on a wall but it looks even better in a printing press, in our minds,” says Moran.
The Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers is open to the public, but Moran says he doesn’t know exactly when items from the new collection will be on display. But it promises visions from the past including, says Moran, “freaks,” exotic animals, and a visual taste of the “demon weed.”