Back Story: The Women’s Car Repair Collective font was commissioned by the multi-faceted digital archive and publisher Library Stack as part of a series of typefaces designed by Nat Pyper called “Queer Year of Love Letters.” But it originated in an earlier project, a beer label design for Milwaukee gallerist John Riepenhoff, whose ongoing Beer Endowment Project raises money for small arts organizations and the exhibitions where they’re sold.
In 2018, when Riepenhoff asked Pyper to design a font for a beer brewed for the Counterpublic Triennial, a community-organized art exhibition held in St. Louis, their first thought was to go straight to the archives. “A lot of my research deals with socialist, anarchist, gay and lesbian publishing histories in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s,” Pyper says. “These types of publications and organizations are often invisible, erased, or overlooked, but the more research I do, the clearer it’s become to me that they existed in a lot of places and in a lot of different forms. I knew that if I were dig deep enough into St. Louis history I would find this type of organization.”
After searching online through the St. Louis Queer History Portal and on social media, Pyper found the St. Louis Lesbian Alliance, formed in 1972. Alongside running a coffee house and offering counseling and legal services, the group published a lesbian-feminist newsletter called Moonstorm through their imprint Tiamat Press. The Lesbian Alliance also had an initiative called the Women’s Car Repair Collective, and it was on those flyers that Pyper found the inspiration for their font. “It’s a way to illustrate some of this lesbian socialist history that exists in St. Louis, and that existed across North America at this time,” Pyper says.
Why’s it called Women’s Car Repair Collective? Pyper based the font for the Triennial beer—later developed out into a full font for Library Stack–on the lettering they found on the Women’s Car Repair Collective (WCRC) flyers. It seems only fair to pay homage. But Pyper also adds that naming the font after the collective is a way of directing people towards its history. “My aim is to disseminate and share these overlooked queer histories and the language work of radical queers of the past,” they say. “I want to be very clear about where it comes from so there’s some understanding of it built into the meta-data of the font itself.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? While the lettering on the flyer provided the bones for the font, Pyper deepened the weight of the nib to give the letterforms their depth. The result is a font that evokes the aesthetics of Second Wave feminism, but also looks almost 3D.
Another important characteristic of the font is the Venus symbol that can be a stand in for the “O” or “Q”—a veritable staple in the wordmarks, titles, and logos of feminist initiatives in the ’60s and ’70s. Pyper drew this particular Venus from the Alliances Moonstorm newsletter. “It can function as a letterform, but I also wanted to highlight this mass of activists who were coming together under this symbol at this time,” they say. “Deployed as a letterform, you can start to see the amount of people who were part of this collective.”
What should it be used for? “I almost want to say ‘use it for time travel,’” Pyper laughs. “Basically, I’m using these fonts to ferry information from one place to another. As a font, it enables users to write new things, putting this work to use in something new. To me, it’s just important that people use it—that people write with it, and in doing so, continue the work [of the Lesbian Alliance] in this subtle way.”