The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Jack Stauffacher: Selections from the Permanent Collection of Architecture and Design from March 2 through June 20, 2002. Featuring approximately twenty-five prints drawn from three recently acquired portfolios, the exhibition highlights the experimental work of Jack Stauffacher, who has operated the Greenwood Press in San Francisco’s North Beach area since 1947 and is widely considered to be one of the pre-eminent letterpress printers/book designers in the Bay Area. The exhibition was organized by Darrin Alfred, SFMOMA’s curatorial associate for architecture and design, in conjunction with Joseph Rosa, the Museum’s new Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design.
Jack Stauffacher first became enchanted with the craft of lead type and letterpress printing as a young boy; he established the first incarnation of the Greenwood Press in 1936, naming it for the street where he and his father built it, behind the family home in San Mateo, California. In 1955 Stauffacher was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for study in Italy, where he spent three years studying the Renaissance Florentine printers; at the same time he explored his interest in the theories of the Bauhaus and the Constructivists. He subsequently held an academic post at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) and the position of Typographic Director at the Stanford University Press. In 1966 Stauffacher established the reincarnation of the Greenwood Press at 300 Broadway in San Francisco, where it continues to flourish today.
As seen in the exhibition, Stauffacher’s work embodies a unique blend of traditional typography and modern design. He works in the letterpress tradition but also transcends the boundaries of typographical conventions, using traditional woodblock letterforms to create semi-abstract graphic compositions. The centerpiece of the Museum’s presentation, a portfolio of ten prints entitled Wooden Letters from 300 Broadway, 1998, is an exercise in typography, lettering and composition in the tradition of the Russian Constructivists. In the series, Stauffacher utilized large nineteenth-century wooden type, culled from a small collection presented to him by a neighboring tenant in the 300 Broadway building whose business was printing posters. Impressions from the wooden forms are used as sculptural shapes placed (seemingly) randomly on the page, devoid of the literal meaning gained by placing them in legible sequence. The result heightens the viewer’s sense of type, ink, paper, form and space.
Also included in the exhibition are examples from the series On and Off Inking, 1990, in which Stauffacher varies the intensity of the inks and mixes them with solvent, causing the pigment to drip down the page; and selections from his earlier Wooden Letters, 1970, series.