Edon Muhaxheri, Vithkuqi Alphabet, 2017

Name: Vithkuqi Digital
Designer: Edon Muhaxheri
Foundry: Thesis work for MICA’s MFA in Illustration Practice
Release date: Pending December 2017

Back story: Muhaxheri, an Albanian artist from the Republic of Kosovo, received a Fulbright scholarship in 2015 to pursue an MFA in illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art. His highly original idea for a thesis project involved making an automaton that could write in Albanian. These complex devices were very popular in Europe in the 19th century, and Muhaxheri chose to have his automaton write a text from the first Albanian alphabet book, Ëvetari by Naum Bredhi, published in 1844. The Albanian language is among the oldest in Europe, dating back 5,000 years, but it lacked a formal writing system until Bredhi’s manuscript was published.

“I was intrigued because I had never heard of it,” Muhaxheri says. “Modern Albanian uses Latin characters. When I saw these original letters for the first time in a scanned copy of the book from the Museum of Education in Albania, I realized I had a precious cultural gem in my hands—and as an illustrator, the means to make its story memorable.” His discovery and preservation of this lost alphabet has not gone unnoticed—Muhaxheri was invited by the Albanian prime minister to present his work at a formal reception.

Why’s it called Vithkuqi? Bredhi named his alphabet after Vithkuq, the village of his birth, near Korçë in southern Albania.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Vithkuqi was designed as an alternative to using Latin, Greek, or Arabic alphabets and characters in written Albanian, as these alphabets have implied religious associations. The script shows the influence of other alphabets, but as a writing system Vithkuqi is unique and can only be used for the Albanian language.

What should I use it for? Vithkuqi letters are a great resource of original symbols that can be put to use for logos, emblems, tattoos, and other expressions of cultural pride. And of course, for anything needing a good, all-purpose authentic Albanian typeface. The designer refers to his work as the “Albanian Helvetica.” Design critic Steven Heller says, “The amazing thing about the project is simply how many alphabetic languages exist in the world for which typography is the vessel; as Westerners, we are so insulated. Thanks to this and other such projects we are finally opening up to the world, just as Albania, once a closed society, has done in recent years.” Read Heller’s interview with Muhaxheri here.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? “I digitized two original fonts that Bredhi had designed, and illustrated several new typefaces in the Vithkuqi alphabet. Each of them has at least one other typeface that it pairs very well with,” says Muhaxheri. “In bilingual designs, Vithkuqi EM Sans pairs well with any version of Helvetica.” Makes sense!