Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lloyd Reynolds' Calligraphic Legacy

(Note Bene: This blog entry is in response to an interesting calligraphy link posted by Oregon poet Jim Carmin, whose day job is an antiquarian rare book collector and manuscript wrangler for the John Wilson Special Collections at the Multnomah Library. @JimCarmin tweeted: GIRVINSteve Jobs, Calligraphy, Lloyd Reynolds and Reed College. Check it out.)

About the time I began writing poetry in the late 1970s, I studied calligraphy with Sonoma State University French professor, Adele Friedman, who was a student and friend of Georgianna Greenwood; both were students of master calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds.

So depending upon how you want to count, I am within one or two degrees of separation from both Lloyd Reynolds and Steve Jobs.

At the time, I didn't have a typewriter, so I hand-calligraphed all my poems in a sort of Japanese "running grass" style Italic chancery cursive script for David Bromige's poetry classes. He seemed to like that—and told me it was a Reed College tradition: Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, etc., (all of whom I had met, so I was in good company.)

Calligraphy, a Greek word, literally means "beautiful writing." Beautiful, my handwriting was not—it was really awful and disjointed (I'm dyslexic). I hated writing, but after I studied calligraphy for a year, my handwriting dramatically improved. So did my brain. Calligraphy is much more than the sum of its parts: not only is it the art of fine penmanship, it is a state of being.

I never intended to become a scribe. Calligraphy and poetry honed my critical thinking skills and allowed me a visual workaround to combat the dyslexic roadblocks and labyrinths that had plagued me all my life. It was a major miracle that I even made it to junior college, let alone, earn a BA in Art—with a side order in poetry.

The introduction of Apple and Mac computers allowed me to write. The technology unlocked the doors of my convoluted brain. I taught myself how to write on an old Apple IIc with floppy disks. I began small, with poetry, and then branched out to write newspaper stories, and grants—which led to my life's work, teaching poetry and art to kids in the schools.

One of my first artist in residency jobs was at Healdsburg Elementary School teaching RSP/Learning Disabled kids how to write calligraphy (and poetry)—when all else had failed them. I redesigned my approach to the letters, and made up stories about them so the kids could really see the shapes as shapes—not letters. We flourished. Kids wrote poetry and their handwriting and reading skills improved.

During this time, The Calligraphy of Lloyd J. Reynolds was my Bible. I found a battered copy of the rare, o.o.p. book and it was the most money I'd ever spent on a used book.
Letters have fascinated me ever since I found their power and beauty when I was five years old.  I learned to read.  I was always drawing and letters were a favorite subject. —Lloyd Reynolds, Autobiographical Notes
When Lloyd Reynolds (1902-1978), a poet who taught at Reed College for 40 years (1949-1984—the year the Mac was invented), first discovered calligraphy in 1934, he said "The letters would not leave me alone…."

It was like "a bolt of lightning," he wrote: "It seemed perfectly obvious—the only logical approach is the historical one. Learn to cut reed and quill pens and write your way through the history of the alphabet!" Lloyd spent the next few years studying paleography. Connect the dots. (Autobiographical Notes).
[Lloyd] He respected students, and he added joy to the skill. Legibility, communication, clarity, and respect for others—all these were tenets in the religion of Lloyd Reynolds and calligraphy. You got as much from who he was as from what he was teaching, and that’s the talent of a great teacher. —Georgianna Greenwood (Reed, ’60)
In 1972, Lloyd Reynolds was honored as Calligrapher Laureate of Oregon‚ the first title ever bestowed in the nation. Reynolds, who revived the art of calligraphy in the West, saw it as a means to work one's way back into the origins of literature. A gateway to history.

It was also very Zen. One had to approach the blank page with a meditative approach. The mind had to be stilled. It was a true Vulcan body - mind meld. There was no room for hesitation or false starts.

I had to wipe my mind clean: in that state of mind, I could recognize the letters I needed to write, but I couldn't say what the word was nor could I spell it. If someone talked to me, I immediately made a mistake—I misspelled the word—or added the words they said—usually a noun. Wherever my mind went while I was calligraphing was not of this world—it was a tranquil white place of suspended time.

During the late 1970s and early 80s, I became the resident calligrapher / sign painter at Sonoma State University. I traded in my steel pen nibs to dance with fat greengrocer felt paint brushes, I pushed the art form into large format. My ephemeral signs and banners on butcher paper graced every corner of the campus.

I made signs for The Student Union, the InterCultural Center, Peter Scarlet's Sonoma Film Institute, and campus events including backdrops for Pete Seeger, Daniel Berirgan, The Jewish Oral History Project, Westwind, The Dead Kennedys, James Burke, etc. Many performing artists who visited SSU, took my banners home with them.

I also did some freelance calligraphy (I called my business Calligrafix). I made wedding invitations, obituaries, cards, menus, programs, tickets, etc. All our posters and broadsides for The Russian River Writers' Guild were hand-calligraphed as getting anything professionally photo-typeset on a huge Compugraphic machine the size of a VW bus—was prohibitively expensive. Hot lead press typography was still in use. Desktop publishing was still a nascent glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye.

About the time I gave up my IBM Selectric typewriter with its daisywheel fonts, is when I quit doing calligraphy. I began to use the Apple and the Mac (and a Laserwriter) with multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts. The desktop publishing revolution had begun.

This post is a funny circle back to Tim Girvin's blog about his connection with Steve Jobs, and Jobs' connection with Lloyd Reynolds and the evolution of the Mac's superb typographic legacy. Reynolds is really the godfather of desktop publishing.

I guess I unconsciously recognized Lloyd Reynold's long-reaching influence on the art of lettering and typography even on the Mac. Steve Jobs stated, "If I had never dropped in on that single course [and audited] in [Reed] college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."

Interesting to note that Tim Girvn's own chancery examples look a lot like Georgiana's work. Lloyd had a strong influence. A distinctive style imprinted upon so many of us—even those of us once and twice removed from the source.

Italic Calligraphy and Handwriting with Lloyd Reynolds
Lloyd Reynolds: Italic Calligraphy


Robin Tovey said...

Nice piece on Lloyd Reynolds and others! May I ask if you are a Reed alumna? You refer to the college as "Evergreen's Reed College;" why is that? There is no affiliation that I'm aware of.

--Robin Tovey '97, Reed College Office of Alumni Relations

Maureen Hurley said...

Thank you Robin. My bad. The Evergreen tag was something I'd read that sparked the blog post. An accretion from what someone else had [erroneously] written—when they meant Reed College—and it hitchhiked along. I wasn't sure what to do with the info, so I never removed it. Begone! No, not alumna, but I've many friends who went there. And, of course, I know Gary Snyder.

Anonymous said...

I was a student at Evergreen between 1971 and 1976. Lloyd Reynolds spent two days lecturing our Program 'Space, Time and Form' Art and Science related projects.
His breadth of knowledge literally changed my life. Thank God for the Steve Jobs/Reed College connection. I find this such a strange and wonderful connection to the Apple that I've used everyday since the Mac SE.

KateGladstone said...

From one dyslexic italic handwriter to another – May I link to your handwriting, that I see in this blog, as proof that we dyslexics are NOT damned to a lifetime of dysfunctional handwriting? Since I teach italic, often to dyslexics or others with disabilities, this would be very inspiring to my students. I would like to link to your blog and to include the pictures of your own handwriting — preferably, of course, with anything you may wish to write about what it was like for you to be learning italic (and, before that, learning other handwriting) with dyslexia. Of course, I will identify you and give you credit — this will all be somewhere on my own site: HandwritingThatWorks.com