Going through an old photo album today, I came across this picture of myself with "His Nibs" Philip Poole in London back in 1997. Poole was an expert on calligraphic pens, nibs, tools and supplies of all kinds, and he both sold and collected them. He had a small shop at the back of Cornelissen, the famous art supply store on Great Russell Street, not far from the British Museum. When I met Mr. Poole in the 1990s, he was already quite old and rather infirm, but he came into the shop every day, and seemed happy to talk to calligraphers like myself. Somewhere, I've got a printed broadside he gave me showing an array of antique pen nibs from his collection, and of course I bought some nibs as well. He was a fixture of the British calligraphic community and I'm glad I got to meet him in person. It looks like some of his collection is now in the Philip Poole Room of the Birmingham Pen Museum.
At the beginning of my graphic design career in the mid- to late 1970s, I made a good part of my living doing calligraphy - from wedding invitations to larger jobs like lettering the matriculation certificates for the entire Dartmouth freshman class. But by the 1990s, my husband and I were doing advertising and corporate graphic design, while my interest in calligraphy had become more artistic.
Oddly enough, while looking through my flat file today for some work to include in an exhibition at the cathedral during Montreal's Nuit Blanche next week, I came across the piece shown above. The theme of this year's Nuit Blanche is "Light," and what could be more appropriate? This mixed-media work incorporates texts from the first chapter of the Gospel of John about incarnation and light and darkness, such as "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," "And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not." It's a big panel, about 22 inches wide, and unfortunately I wasn't able to photograph it very successfully. Here's a detail:
The texture is built up from many layers of ink, gouache, intense black sumi ink and acrylic, with brushwork and overlapping layers of calligraphy, removal and scratching-through. This kind of expressive calligraphic treatment of a text was spearheaded by an American calligrapher named Thomas Ingmire in the late 1980s and taken up by many talented calligraphers who had previously felt constricted by the page and the need to make "perfect" letterforms. I found it all enormously exciting and liberating, and did some experimental pieces that also incorporated repetitive printed elements, though my artwork eventually went in other directions.
My studio wall in Vermont, twenty years ago.
However, I came back to it just last week when I was working on the cover for a forthcoming Phoenicia book by Magda Kapa, titled All the Words. These techniques seemed perfected suited for her book, and although I can't show you the cover just yet, it felt exciting and natural to work with letterforms, painting, and printing in that way again. Finding these photos and older works today just seemed poetic, and a serendipitous affirmation of the way things come around again.