Carefully crafted type reproduces the look of books from bygone days.

Hands-on devotion
turns printed
word into art
by Sabrina Y. White
photography by C.W. McKeen

Husband, wife keep old craft alive to satisfy certain types of customers

Winfred and Michael Bixler enjoy creating intricate detail and quality work of earlier years.

The have renovated an old brick mill to serve as both a home and workplace. But their dedication to crafts of the past goes further. They make their living manufacturing old typefaces and setting type in old-fashioned ways for books, museums, and artists.

The Mottville residents began their business 12 years ago in Boston, Mass.

The Bixlers, along with Karen and Richard Pardee, operate the Michael Bixler Press and Letter Foundry at 4207 Railroad St. in the former Skaneateles Handicraftes building.

The company sets type for Yale University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard University, the New York City Ballet, and the University of California.


"We do some designing, printing, wood engravings, and a great deal of handwork," Winfred said.

Their first work, a bibliography of Charles Dickens collections for Yale, took them two years to complete because of the variety of typefaces and spacing used.

After a manuscript arrives, it is read and then set on a monotype keyboard. The keyboard punches out dots and spaces on a ribbon much like a player piano.


A monotype caster reads the ribbon and adds proper spacing then casts the characters in lead.

The Bixlers melt down all of their used type so that each manuscript will be printed with crisp new letters.

Winfred Bixler, above, checks a finished work and Michael sets up a new job.

Michael Bixler, 38, said this sort of type setting technology was developed at the turn of the century and is still used in Third World countries.

There is still a demand for this type work because some book printers require this type of technology," he said. "I don't think the computer will replace us."

He said certain typefaces aren't available by computer because some are redesigned photographically for commercial use. The traditional typefaces are adapted and the original quality is lost.

Bixler said an organization like the Whitney Museum often wants a special look for its catalog and would seek his service.

The Bixlers, who have been married 15 years, find that the independence of operating a business that they both love is very rewarding.

"In Boston, we spent one hour commuting to work," Winfred said. "Now we walk downstairs and work from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and depending on the work load we may work some weekends.

"We like the nature of our technology because we use machines to create art, she said.

Her husband learned his craft at the Rochester institute of Technology where Winfred was studying books and illustration.

She said it's a joy working with people who are all striving toward the same goal,

The Bixlers admit Mottville is a rather remote place to start a business but, because most orders are taken over the phone, the business hasn't suffered.

"Most of our work comes from New York City, California, and Chicago and by word of mouth, they said. "We never advertise."


They said there isn't a large market for their craft, but what work there is comes to them.

"As long as people want finely printed books, we'll always be busy," the Bixlers said. "

- 30 -

from the ?day, February 7, 1985 issue of The Syracuse Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York, pages ? and ?.

Copyright © 2003 Michael & Winifred Bixler
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