The Detroit Wood Type Company keeps it real

Don Kilpatrick grew up in Salt Lake City, while Joe Benghauser grew up in Lansing. Kilpatrick is one of Signal Return's founding members. "The printmaking community is a very supportive group of people, which makes it even more enjoyable to be a part of," Benghauser says. The two started their innovative and labor-intensive print shop in 2011. "We both have a strong love for the handmade object, and especially typography and how it sometimes relates to illustration and design," Benghauser says. "We use a lot of wood type in our design and illustration, but not exclusively."

Wood type dates back to the beginnings of printing and printmaking. Its use stems from people carving letterforms as woodcuts with illustrations. Over time, people made breakthroughs in creating type that could be moved around and rearranged into different words and sentences. Wood type became available en masse in the early 19th century, with companies such as Hamilton Type Co., who produced loads of wood type in unique designs.

Benghauser is more of a graphic designer, and Kilpatrick is more of an illustrator. "But we sometime trade hats and responsibilities," Benghauser says. Their work is incredibly strong, both in terms of craft and design. As both have day jobs, they don't do too much work. The division between their own creations and work-for-hire is evenly split. Michigan work is a big inspiration. "I am inspired by [Gary] Grimshaw's poster work here locally, because some of my Michigan or Detroit influences are music-related," Kilpatrick says. "I also am inspired by local printers like Lynne Avadenka, Amos Kennedy, and Steve Schudlich."

Kilpatrick teaches at the College for Creative Studies, where he's the illustration department chairman, and Benghauser is an alum. "We both have taught workshops at our studio in the recent past, as well as workshops at Signal Return," Benghauser says. "We've done one workshop with the first-graders at the Detroit Achievement Academy. I really hope to engage DPS to do more workshops with students. This seems to be more important, as art classes seem to be first to get cut."

Detroit Wood Type Co. are beloved for their Detroit-themed merch that is well-made, beautifully designed, and not cheesy. "We take pride in being based in Detroit, and realized a few years ago that there wasn't much Detroit-themed merchandise out there at the time that wasn't sports-related," Benghauser says. "We set out to create things that we ourselves would want to buy or use, give away as gifts to others, and this, in conjunction with really taking the time to experience and observe what is happening in the city, we were able to create work that others would want."

The duo recently collaborated on a large-scale hotel mural project in Corktown at Trumbull and Porter. They've also purchased a building on Mount Elliott, right on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit, that will allow them to spread out a bit more and add new presses and machinery to the repertoire.

Visit Follow them on Instagram @detroitwoodtypeco.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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