End September 2016, the Museum Plantin-Moretus (www.museumplantinmoretus.be) has been reopened after some months of renovations. It is the first museum ever on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and 63% of all heritage value in Antwerp is located between these walls.
The museum is situated in the historical printhouse and residence of the families Plantin and Moretus. While Gutenberg was the first to work with movable type to print books, Plantin was the biggest publisher, trader of books and protagonist towards the democratization of knowledge at that time. During the 16th and 17th century, his books spread all over Europe, and even set foot in the Americas.
Today, the two oldest printing presses in the world can be found at the Museum Plantin-Moretus, together with more than 20.000 lead letters, 30.000 old books, illustrated manuscripts and gems of European printing. You can visit the old residencies, and go through the different steps of the printing process, from carved letter to printed text.
Almost everybody in and around Antwerp has visited the museum as a kid in school, but until the recent reopening it had quite a ‘dusty’ character. During the holidays last summer, the whole museum underwent a metamorphosis: a new reading room was built and the whole visitor experience was redesigned.
To gain more publicity for the reopening, and to attract a broader audience, the museum invited Kastaar for a collaboration.
Kastaar is an ‘analog printing factory’ in Antwerp, founded by graphic designers An Eisendrath and Stoffel Van den Bergh. Our love for traditional slow printing techniques has made us move mountains. Well, not exactly mountains… but tons and tons of lead type, cast iron letterpress machines and wood type cabinets. Saving these beauties from the scrapyard one by one, we gathered an impressive collection of hands-on printing materials. Kastaar has become an exhausting self-taught adventure as well as a small museum of craftsmanship.
The limitations of slow printing, combined with contemporary techniques and insights, keep on challenging us to rethink the design process. Kastaar is more than a print shop: it is a bold playground for graphic experimentation and collaboration. Embracing the past, while focusing on the future.
We came up with the idea to build two mobile printing bikes; one with a proofing press, one with a tabletop hand press. (And yes, we completely built and welded these ourselves!)
We took to the streets, and pedaled to some of the biggest events and liveliest places in and around the city. Cultural markets, Flemish Heritage day, popular parks on sunny days, …
“If you cannot visit the museum, the museum will come to you!”
We offered people the opportunity to print their own poster or card with wood type on our mobile presses. On the proofing press, we changed the words/sentence according to the event. On the hand press, people could print a letter of their name on an A6 card. At the same time, the posters and cards functioned as excellent tools for promotion, since all information regarding the big reopening of the museum was in the footer of the poster and on the back of the card.
For a lot of children, our mobile printing bikes were a first hands-on encounter with print, typography & graphic design. And boy, did they love it. While they were at it, we could give more background information about the museum and the reopening.But also a lot of elderly people stopped by, mesmerized by the printing machinery, and reminiscing the days when they used to work as a printer themselves. They saw that we were doing good work with these old presses, and again, some people offered us printing machinery and old type they still had at home.
Apart from the printing bikes, we were invited as ‘artist in residence’ during the first 6 months after the reopening, to breathe new life into the museum shop.
Because we are both graphic designer and printer, just like Plantin was in his days, we were asked to produce a new ‘product range’ for the Museum Shop. We were also invited to re-arrange the setup of the Museum Shop, install a small workshop, and really make our mark on the whole space.
We were given access to the archives containing the original 16th century woodblock illustrations: thousands and thousands of wonderful hand cut printing blocks that were used in the books of Plantin and Moretus. Botanical prints, (sometimes weird) animals, monograms, religious prints, a lot of letters, …
It took us days to check everything out. We made a selection of some of the nicest illustrations we wanted to work with, and we combined these 16th century illustrations into new 21st century designs.
We then printed these designs with our own Heidelberg presses on different kinds of high quality paper.
The result is now for sale in the Museumshop of Plantin-Moretus.
A list of the products:
– a series of small cards with typography, a combination of original 16th century letters from the archive and modern typography. We wanted to illustrate that typography is something of all ages. In school, we learn about the basic shape of letters, but there are many ways to draw or design a letter. 26 letters + 10 numbers in combination with 4 designs makes for a total of 144 different designs.
– 14 A6 postcards: new elements and texts were added to the original woodblock illustrations, allowing us to play with shape, meaning and language.
– sets of 6 coasters, a combination of some weird animal prints we discovered in the archives. (side note: Often the illustrator had never seen these animals in real life. They based their drawings on descriptions by others, like an E-fit at the police station. This sometimes resulted in weirdly shaped, surreal looking animals.
– 5 seedbags: There were a lot of botanical prints from the Dodoens collection, but we couldn’t find captions with the names of the plants. So, we collaborated with Bart Belmans from Sanguisorba.be to identify the plants, and to find out from which plants we would still able to obtain the original seeds. This resulted in 5 seedbags: Red Orache, Pea, Pumpkin, Rocket and Marigold. These are not seeds of the (edible) plants as we know them now, but of the original species as they grew in the 16th century.
– bookmarks with a print of a worm/centipede and ‘boekenworm’ (= bookworm in Dutch)
– 5 notebooks with illustrations of an animal, and the number 1 > 5.
(these were printed in offset, not on our own typo presses)
– 2 aprons with embroidery LETTERSOEP and SUGAR SANS & BACON BOLD
– the never ending calendar: a nice wooden base to support letterpressed cards with numbers, names of the days and months. The cards with the days were illustrated with a visual element referring to science or maths.
A few weeks after the reopening of the Museum Plantin-Moretus, our collaboration received the Museum Product Award at the Flemish Cultural Awards.
- Creative Directors Stoffel Van den Bergh & An Eisendrath
- Art Directors An Eisendrath & Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Designers Stoffel Van den Bergh & An Eisendrath
- Illustrators An Eisendrath & Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Photographers Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Editors An Eisendrath & Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Copywriters Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Printwork Stoffel Van den Bergh & An Eisendrath
- 16th century archive digging An Eisendrath & Stoffel Van den Bergh
- Bike deliveries Stoffel Van den Bergh & An Eisendrath
- Showing off muscles An Eisendrath & Stoffel Van den Bergh