Footprints on the Moon

Apollo 11 Logo

(Click here for “Get Your Ass to Mars” image)

It’s all about perspective; every great (or even good) artist knows that. Art educates. Education is the sending; the learning happens in the receiving: the re-schematization of received information.

Here’s an example of perspective: seeing Michael Collins, one of three members of the Apollo 11 crew, 45 years after his pioneering moon-landing mission, now an elderly gentleman wearing a t-shirt reading “Get your ass to Mars.” The whole image puts everything into a kind of perspective:

That life is short and people age. That those bitten by the space colonization bug never give up on their dream. The image says it all. This is the Art for me; the education.

Collins never set foot on the moon, but instead piloted the Command Module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin each spent around 2-1/2 hours on the lunar surface, collecting moon rocks and leaving oversized space-shoe footprints on the eerie powdery surface. I recall seeing the images as a 9-year-old on my family’s black and white television set. They seemed surreal. It was surreal that these men were on the moon to begin with, and even more surreal that through the miracle of video, these images, almost 300,000 miles away, came to us with only a few seconds’ delay. I remember the slightly asynchronous communication between the ground controllers and the astronauts. I also remember President Richard Nixon congratulating them from Earth for their achievement. I heard this on the radio. I later learned that Collins stayed the Command Module, a kind of orbiting taxi driver, waiting patiently for his fellow space travelers to finish exploring, before shuttling them back to earth.

I’ve been doing research on the Apollo 11 mission, having seen this picture. Collins designed the mission logo: a bald eagle with an olive branch in its talons, hovering over the surface of the moon. I like the significance of the olive branch. It signifies that our spirit of endeavor and exploration can best be served when we work together, as is demonstrated in the cooperative venture of the International Space Station, and the multi-nation partnerships into which NASA is entering in order to continue its engagement with the Great Beyond.

100 Years of High Tech

IMG_1239What’s this? Is it the Enigma Machine made famous again recently in the film The Imitation Game? No. That’s not what this is. It’s the keyboard for a Monotype machine, one of the last machines to produce individual type for letterpress printing. The Monotype machine was unveiled at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (now celebrating its centennial with programs and exhibits around San Francisco). With the machine, operators were able to create individual pieces of metal type required for a specific print job, specifying not only the letters they needed, but also the spacing and special characters. On the other end of the system, a Monotype caster would pop out the individual type, cast out of a molten metal mixture using a matrix of individual brass character molds. This was cutting-edge high-tech at the time. It sped up the typesetting process by creating all the individual characters needed on demand, rather than having to search through typecases and hoping you had enough t’s, r’s, e’s, etc. to set a given job.

Now of course, we type on the computer and text on our phones, and can change the size, style, and font of our words almost instantaneously. But letterpress printing was the name of the game from the 1440s when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type until the mid-20th Century, when offset printing took over as the dominant form of graphic reproduction. In the 1980s, however, letterpress printing experienced a revival, as appreciators of the fine, old-timey craft created a demand for old-fashioned, high quality printing. Nothing in modern printing compares with the “bite” of real metal type into the paper, creating a highly tactile art form.

On February 28th, 2015, the Monotype system was on display at the centennial Open House of M & H Type, a craft foundry that has partnered with Arion Press, both housed in San Francisco’s Presidio, where they continue to publish limited-run, fine-art books for the discerning bibliophile. M & H type has the only monotype foundry that runs year-round, continuously since 1915.