Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro

The following is a guest post by Nancy Stock-Allen.

imprenta_municipal_buildingexteriorMadrid’s Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Spanish printing, typography and book arts. First established in the mid-1800’s, the organization has moved several times before settling into a newly refurbished building tucked down a quiet street near the tourist-packed Puerta del Sol. The exterior’s handsome large Art Deco lettering makes it easy to spot.Floors_Alphabet



Upon entering the building we were welcomed by the staff who explained the layout of the multi-story space, one of the few attractions we visited in Spain that charged no entrance fee. Natural light cascaded down through the three story central atrium, highlighting dimensional letterforms in various historical styles.

The first floor holds a permanent exhibition devoted to type history, type making and book binding with some of the best visual explanations we had ever seen. Tools for hand punch cutting, mold making and hand type casting were on display along with several mechanized typecasting machines including Monotype and Intertype.

The majority of the floor space is devoted to historical printing equipment, both wood and metal presses, gathered from all points in Spain. Some came from the Madrid Municipal Lithograph and Printing House that was in operation during the nineteenth century. Both the letterpress and lithography presses were being prepared for demonstration printing for the local high school students visiting during our time in the museum.DSC_2232



Spanish artistic bookbinding is highlighted in a display of elaborate stamping tools and beautifully finished covers. Intricate leather stamping and gold gilding techniques were first introduced by Muslims on the Iberian peninsula (the Muslim Al-Andalus). The blending of Al-Andalus geometric patterning with Christian ornamentation developed into a unique artistic style known as Mudejar.EvaStudent

The rear section of the first floor is behind glass—a large workshop with type cases and presses that are available for advanced typesetting and printing workshops. The energy of the typography workshops emanates from staff typographer, Eva de la Rocha, who we found busily working with a group of beginning typesetting students in a studio on the second floor. The large room, painted a pristine white, matched the white coats worn by the participants. It was an extremely clean and bright environment in which to struggle through the setting one’s very first paragraphs of type. The students picked their type from cases that looked like the Caja Española, they definitely were not the typical California cases we use in the US.travelsapron

Eva’s academic background is in Humanities and Information Science with a Masters in Editing but she learned typesetting under the instruction of experienced printers at the museum. She has been at the museum for 11 years, starting at age 21 when was charged with preserving the typography collection as well as engaging the community in the collection. Eva’s apron was printed with the Travels in Typography logo from a workshop that traveled from the US to Madrid, Mainz and Venice in 2008. The trip, organized by Bill Moran, Artistic Director of the Hamilton Type Museum, will be return to the same locations in June, 2013.book_displays




The rest of the second floor is a large exhibition space for temporary exhibitions. At the time of our visit the exhibition “Libros Libres” (Free Books) featured contemporary bindings and explorations in the form of the book by Cinco + (Group Five +). The display method, utilizing stacks of books as display tables, was almost as interesting as the books themselves. It was its final day of the show­— we were lucky to catch it.

A third floor, not open to the public, is used by Town Hall workers who produce handmade bookbinding, artistic bookbinding and do restoration. Anyone with an interest in book arts and printing history should take advantage of this model facility if traveling in Madrid.

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Categories: Printshop Tour

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