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Scriptorium: Reed College Cooley Gallery June, 2017


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I just returned from Portland, Oregon and Reed College. The college holds a "Reunion" for alumni every Spring with lots of programming. Since Stephanie Snyder developed the "Calligraphy Initiative" through the Cooley Gallery, of which she is Director and Curator, Reunions has included special calligraphy events, generally with Reed alumni as guest artists.


This year, we had a very special guest. Paul Herrera is a former student, protegé of and successor to Fr. Edward Catich at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, IO. Father Catich was the person who figured out that the monumental Roman inscriptions, in particular that on the Trajan Column in Rome, were executed by painting the letters on stone with a brush before carving them with a mallet and chisel. When I was an undergraduate at Reed, I had the privilege of watching Fr. Catich carve the name of the main administration building on a granite lintel. Like his mentor, Paul Herrera is a calligrapher and stone carver. He is now retired from the St. Ambrose faculty. He is a lovely man, and I enjoyed a couple of long conversations with him immensely. He gave a lecture and demonstration of brush lettering and of stone carving.


He brought with him a photocopy of one of Fr. Catich's rubbings of the Trajan Column inscriptions





Paul Herrera


I had my first experience lettering with a brush and gouache. I'll just say it requires a somewhat different skill set than pen and ink lettering, but I became intrigued with the technique and plan to work on it on my own.


Those who attend the weekly Scriptorium at Reed enjoy the gift of available consultation from a couple of Lloyd Reynolds' former students who became professional calligraphers of no little accomplishment themselves. Jaki Svaren is known by a number of members of this forum as the author of "Written Letters," a wonderful collection of alphabets in many styles along with instructional text. I am happy to say, this book is in the process of being republished and will, hopefully, be available again in a few months.



Jaki Svaren


Anita Bigelow was also a student of Reynolds. Her favorite styles are gothic, as demonstrated in this banner:




I had a wonderful time, as I usually do when I can attend the Scriptorium. I hope you find my brief account of my latest visit enjoyable.


Happy writing!




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Some one just posted this photo on a Reed College FB page. I love it. Me, Jaki and Brian Martin (another Reed Alum., physician and calligrapher)





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Excellent! That's a really nice little write-up, thank you for sharing such an experience!

Hi, I'm Mat


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Btw, I didn't know about the painting of the letters to be carved on Trajan's Column and the like. How did Fr Catich figure that out?

Hi, I'm Mat


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A guy I know used to do calligraphy in the SCA. I think he was the one that told me about the painting the letters before they were chiseled out, because he made jokes about graffiti, and rivals painting rude slogans about each other. :rolleyes:

He's also the one who told me about how he and another calligrapher would look at manuscripts and try to figure out exactly how the scribe worked. One piece, he told me, he and the other SCA scribe kinda thought the original calligrapher was sitting sideways in a chair, and a weird angle to the desk, with his free arm behind him, and slung over the back of the chair.... :huh:

@ MercianScribe -- I'm guessing that the answer is one of two things: either there were paint fragments found on the marble; or the guy did what Bill and Jill did years ago: analyze the shapes of the letters and figure out exactly HOW the strokes and letterforms could have been made.

@ dms525 -- so, am I remotely close to guessing the answer correctly with either of my surmises? B)

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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Btw, I didn't know about the painting of the letters to be carved on Trajan's Column and the like. How did Fr Catich figure that out?


Ruth is pretty close to the answer. Catich's key question had to do with the why and how of the serif. Why was it necessary and how was it made? Or the other way around. He figured out that the serif was totally a function of the tool used for laying out the inscriptions, and that was a flat brush (as opposed to a pointed brush).


What I had known but had not really appreciated until Herrera highlighted it is that, before even going to college and becoming a priest, Catich had worked for 20 years as a commercial sign painter. He was intimately familiar with brush lettering and prepared to recognize it when he saw it. He also had a craftsman's mind set which includes the principles "Form follows function" and "Pick the right tool for the job." He thought pragmatically, and this presumably allowed him to put himself in the shoes of the Trajan stone carvers, who, after all, had a job to do. And they better do it right the first time! One, mistakes cannot be corrected, and, two, the customer is the Emperor, and he doesn't like mistakes.


Well, that's a super-condensed version. Of course, Catich's explanation of how he came to this is documented in his book, "The Origin of the Serif: Brush Writing and Roman Letters." He took a few hundred pages to describe his findings and reasoning.



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Robert Palladino also taught brush lettering, or at least he did in the 1970s. As a matter of fact, I still have a brush from his class somewhere in my desk. And, yes, the technique is different: it requires turning the brush while writing - something that takes some practice and time to master...

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An account that makes your weekend sound like an awful lot of fun, and the photographs prove it. Thank you for the post!

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