- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Calligraphers’ Guild carries on tradition of artistic lettering

By Josh McAuliffe

Published: April 19, 2015

Calligraphers’ Guild carries on tradition of artistic lettering

In this age when electronic modes of communication rule, it’s comforting to know some people still strive to uphold the delicate art of painstakingly etched handwriting.

The members of the Calligraphers’ Guild of Northeastern Pennsylvania have lived by this principle for more than three decades. The group is in its 35th year of preserving the application and heritage of calligraphy, the ancient practice of using a pen to create distinctly artful lettering. Today, calligraphy carries on among those interested in both its functional and fine-art applications.

With 42 members, the Calligraphers’ Guild of NEPA holds regular meetings and workshops at Marywood University, where members practice their skills through themed projects, bounce ideas off one another and listen to presentations by world-class calligraphers.

Occasionally, the guild takes trips to museums, and members have exhibited their work throughout the region. On Sunday, April 26, the group will celebrate its anniversary at Russell’s Restaurant in East Scranton. The dinner will feature a talk by renowned calligrapher Jerry Kelly, whose work includes book and type design for clients like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harvard University.

“(At) virtually every program I’ve attended since I joined, I’ve learned something,” said group president Patricia Podesta, a Kingston resident and guild member since 2000.

Beauty of the work

Among the group’s still-active charter members is Clarks Summit resident Margie Zaums. She first took a calligraphy course in college and joined the group after seeing an ad in the newspaper.

“It said anyone interested was invited to come to the first meeting,” Zaums said. “I didn’t know anyone else doing calligraphy, so I was delighted to see the ad.”

Some of the guild’s early members were teachers, and from them Zaums learned plenty. She also attended several international calligraphy conferences.

In time, her skills evolved to the point that she became a professional calligrapher people hired to create wedding invitations, cards, envelopes and more items that used the artform well. She also gave private lessons until her recent retirement.

“When you have people to share these ideas with, it spurs you on, it motivates you,” said Zaums, the guild’s recording secretary. “A good percentage of what I know I got from the Calligraphers’ Guild.”

Zaums has served as a mentor for many guild members, including Angee Cobb of Madison Twp., who joined the guild in 1985 upon seeing an exhibit of members’ works.

“I just fell in love with it. It’s just the beauty of the work; I just love it,” said Cobb, who taught handwriting as a schoolteacher. “When I saw it was close to the Palmer Method of handwriting, I thought, ‘I’ll join.’

“It was the first time I joined a group where I got more than I had to give. I was like a sponge, and people were so willing to help me.”

Cobb has been one of the more active guild members ever since, typically holding several positions at a time. Right now, she’s the vice president and edits the group’s semi-annual newsletter. Her calligraphy fills the walls of her home, and she focuses mostly on personal cards.

Podesta had taken a separate calligraphy course and did some cards “very poorly” before attending a guild function in 1999.

“And I got more and more involved, and now it’s one of my favorite things,” said Podesta, who plans to attend this year’s International Calligraphy Conference in California. “One of the things that struck me from the beginning was how friendly everybody is. That’s what I think is one of the really nice things about this group.”

Thanks to the guild, Podesta has developed her calligraphy skills to the point where, she joked, “I’m no longer embarrassed by my work.”

“It’s because of Margie that a lot of the members of the Calligrapher’s Guild have grown. We’re very lucky to have her,” she said.

Mutual encouragement

Good instruction is key, because there’s so much to learn when it comes to the intricacies of calligraphy. Many members start using a Speedball “C” pen, Zaums said. As they move along, they experiment with an assortment of pointed and broad nibs attached to pens. To keep their work areas clean, they store their ink in a contraption called a dinky dip.

And, of course, there are plenty of calligraphy scripts to keep members busy, from Foundational to Neuland to Carolingian. Zaums has taught courses on the different variations of Italic, the most common script, “which people pretty much identify as calligraphy.”

“You can learn one script, but then you can learn another one,” Podesta said. “There is no end.”

“A lot of people don’t realize a lot of the fonts on computers were designed by calligraphers,” Zaums said.

The guild often gears its meetings and workshops around specific themes. Members make birthday cards for each other. They collaborate on art projects, among the more recent ones a 2015 calendar.

Sometimes the guild devotes sessions to subjects tangentially related to calligraphy, like rubber stamps, marbleized paper and matting and framing.

Mutual encouragement is tantamount. As Podesta explained, “The only criticism is self-criticism.”

“You have to be patient, and you have to have motivation. And you have to pay attention to details,” she said. “Because it is a hand thing, I don’t think there is anything like perfection.”

“You have to be willing to put the time in,” Zaums added.

As the guild moves forward, it will continue to seek bringing new calligraphers into the fold. At one point, membership was more than double what it is now.

“I think so many younger women and men today, they have jobs, they’re raising children, they don’t have time to join,” Zaums said.

But those who do take up the hobby likely will find an enriching, challenging pursuit worth their time.

“I enjoy it. I don’t look at it as work,” Zaums said. “I look at it as something that’s fun for me.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1H4eAOk

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/

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