The Soissons family consists of Soissons Regular – with a Soissons Italic, Soissons Headline, and a Soissons Black to come at a later date.
As part of our “French experience” here at TypeParis 2023, my wife and I visited the grave of my great-uncle Steven Jendraszak at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, in the French countryside near Soissons. We were the first family members ever to visit him, 105 years after his death.
He was never spoken of growing up, even my Aunt heard nothing about him. Regardless, a clue had been left for me, a photo of a young man with gentle, kind face – hard to see him in combat. So, it was like solving a “cold case” – and I've come to feel like I've gotten to know him these last four years, through all the research surrounding him. I was informed of his grave from a military researcher right before Covid, and have been waiting since then to make this “pilgrimage.”
Killed in action by a biplane bomber on the second day of the The Battle of Soissons (July 18-22, 1918) on July 21,1918, Steven Jendraszak served in the United States Army's 3rd Machine Gun Battalion for the liberation of France and Europe. Fought on the Western Front during World War I, this battle marked the key turning point of the war, as the German army would be on the defensive for the remainder of the conflict. The war ended 5 months later.
Established in August 1918, the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery contains the graves of 6,012 American soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. The land is leased by the French government to the United States American Battle Monuments Commission in perpetuity.
Visiting the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery was a profoundly meaningful experience for me; I felt I had completed a task long left undone. His grave placement is prominent, at the beginning of row, and close to the monument.
Beyond the grounds themselves and the graves of the fallen, there is a large monument at the end of the cemetery with a chapel on one side and a map room on the other. On the wall of the map room was displayed the ground offensive with dates; the stonework and typography was instantly inspirational to me and spoke to me.
I felt I could both do this style justice but also allow me to spend more time with my great-uncle who I’ve been getting to know these last few years.
In terms of its purpose, it was in the context of developing a historical typeface for the United States American Battle Monuments Commission as the client. It might be used for displays at the memorials, the digital presence on web and otherwise, and possibly an interactive experience re-creation of the grounds for those who are unable to visit in person.
I got to know the retired Marine Sergeant Major Hubert Caloud, who is now the Superintendent of the cemetery. Warm and enthusiastic for the cemetery, he served as a great resource for me. He allowed me to return to the site and granted me access to the walls so I could do stone rubbings of them.
In executing the type face – and marrying the two traditions of uppercase and lowercase – I necessarily needed to make compromises on both ends. I took a lot of inspiration from the incomplete bowls of the "6" and the "8" numerals of the source, and I applied that feature to the bowls of the "R," "B," and "P" in the upper case.
I found that I actually couldn't directly replicate many of the characters exactly for any of them to be made part of a formal typeface family, so there were “casualties” here: one of them being the lowercase "e" in the map room from that had a distinctive look. But in the end, it needed to conform to the greater family, so I did allow for the bowl to be incomplete – like with the "6" and the "8" – giving at that unifying touch.
The 6-week type design programme that you’ve been waiting for starts on 4 June and ends 12 July 2024.