I’ve posted so many photos of signage in L.A. that folks often forget that I’ve spent the better part of a decade in the swath of New England that lies between these two great cities.
If you are traveling to either of these conferences, I encourage you to see the sights! Of course there is lots to do in Boston and Montreal themselves, but if you have the opportunity I also encourage you to venture outside the city centers. In case it is helpful, here are some points of typographic interest (or at least design interest) that I have enjoyed in the area roughly between Boston and Montreal:
Shelburne Museum: This might be my favorite museum ever. This place defies description with an eccentric and diverse collection of folk art, textiles, and objects from rural New England and the globe. You can spend an entire day wandering its many buildings. There is a functioning print shop, and oh yeah also a steamboat parked in the middle of the museum’s vast grounds. Plus, it is not far from the world’s tallest filing cabinet, and directly on the way from Boston to Montreal (about two hours by car from the latter).
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: This museum is dedicated to the art of children’s books, with permanent exhibits with the work of Eric Carle (famous for The Hungry Little Caterpillar) as well as rotating exhibits on other authors/illustrators. Like the Yiddish Book Center (see below), this is on the campus of the college that I attended. Two hours by car from Boston.
Mass MOCA: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art might be my favorite of all contemporary art museums...take that, MoMA! Located in an old mill complex, this museum hosts exhibitions of all kinds, from twentieth century art to contemporary sculpture and installation. For anyone that deals with shapes, the Sol LeWitt exhibit will be mind-blowing. Three hours by car from Boston.
Peabody Essex Museum: An art museum with a diverse and fascinating collection, including a 19th century Chinese house. How much lettering and type you will see will really depend on what is on display. One hour from Boston, accessible by Commuter Rail on the Newbury/Rockport line.
Museum of Printing: TypeCon will have a workshop day here, but I feel compelled to recommend it anyway. Frank Romano has put together an excellent collection of printing machinery and ephemera from the cold metal, hot metal, and phototypesetting eras. Roughly an hour north of Boston, it is about two miles from the last Commuter Rail stop on the Haverhill Line.
Yiddish Book Center: This is a massive collection of Yiddish-language books, including lots of old type and lettering in the Hebrew script. This isn’t like a rare book room; you can just pull stuff from the shelves and look at it. I am reminded that there is also metal type and a Yiddish Linotype machine on exhibit! Located very close to the Eric Carle Museum on Hampshire College’s campus (my first dorm room was just across the field), two hours by car from Boston.
Rauner Special Collections Library: Located in the middle of Dartmouth College’s picturesque ivy league campus, this special collections library includes the archive of type designer Rudolph Ruzicka, as well as materials from famous graphic arts historian Ray Nash. Three hours by car from Montreal, two from Boston; Dartmouth Coach has a direct bus from Boston to Hanover. Call ahead.
Mortimer Rare Book Room: The rare book room I visited most in college, located on the beautiful campus of Smith College in Northampton. There is a special book arts collection, records from many of New England’s private presses, and lots of cool old books from the Incunabula. Two hours by car from Boston; there is also bus service from Boston to Northampton. Closed until September 5; call ahead.
Historic Deerfield Library: Historic Deerfield is a collection of museums located throughout the village of Old Deerfield that capture 18th-century New England life. This is not really an attraction for designers, but I mention it because I enjoyed visiting its Flynt Library and perusing books such as Bickham’s Universal Penman, other writing manuals, and even the type specimen book used by Deerfield’s printer in the 19th century. Two hours by car from Boston, call ahead.
These are places that I haven’t been to personally, but have on good authority that they are worth checking out:
Brimfield Antiques Market: This large Antiques Market will be held September 5–10 in the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts. One and a half hours by car from Boston. Recommended by Jill Pichotta.
Chapin Library: On the campus of Williams College, this rare book room has a copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Baskerville Bible, as well as an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century fine press work. Three hours by car from Boston; not far from MassMOCA. Recommended by Kent Lew.
DeCordova Sculpture Park: The largest sculpture park in New England, the DeCordova focuses on contemporary art and installation. 30 minutes by car from Boston, or two miles from the Lincoln Commuter Rail stop on the Fitchburg/South Acton Line. Recommended by Jenn Contois.
Madsonian Design Museum: A small museum between Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont, dedicated to industrial design (“from cars to toasters, and from toys to canoes,” says their website). I’ve never been but this seems cute. Open Fri, Sat, and Sun. Two and a half hours by car from Montreal.
American Antiquarian Society: An independent research library located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the AAS houses “the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States,” according to their website. Public tours are closed, but visitors and researchers (like us!) are still welcome. Recommended by Nick Sherman, who told me that they have a copy of Page’s Specimen of Chromatic Wood Type, which is reason enough for me to go. One hour by car from Boston; bus options available. Call ahead.
Letterpress Things: A letterpress shop with type, plates, and and printing equipment. Closed until August 5; open dates include August 19 and September 2 and 16, check website for latest information. Also open during the week by appointment. One and a half hours from Boston; bus options to nearby Holyoke and Springfield (the latter’s bus terminal has a noteworthy sign). Recommended by Nick Sherman.
This is an incomplete and somewhat arbitrary list. There are also plenty of eating, hiking, camping, and swimming opportunities; old cemeteries with funky lettering; TONS of independent bookstores (including the Montague Bookmill, offering “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”); and all sorts of other local flavor to be found (or at least cider donuts).
Plus, I didn’t even attempt to cover the urban areas of Boston and Montreal themselves, not to mention Southern New England where you can find gems such as the Providence Public Library and the Yale Art Gallery.
Remember to check websites or call ahead for hours, and please holler if I’ve left out your favorite stop! Many, many thanks to Jenn Contois, Alexandre Saumier Demers, Kent Lew, Jill Pichotta, Nick Sherman, and Eben Sorkin for their feedback on this list.
Finally, if you are coming to the area, enjoy yourself! If I can provide any recommendations for you, please let me know.