The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Reedies Find Solace in Calligraphy Revival

Over thirty Reed community members sat shoulder to shoulder in Vollum 120 last Thursday afternoon, carefully writing and rewriting the alphabet. Their instructor, Inga Dubay, projected her own handwriting onto a screen while she described how to form the lowercase letter “l.” “It’s like an ‘i,’ but longer. I always like to exhale when I do the down stroke,” she advised.

The students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other members of the community who attended the lesson were taking part in Reed’s new Scriptorium, a non-credit calligraphy workshop coordinated by Gregory MacNaughton ’89. The free classes are run on a drop-in basis. Though the classes are taught sequentially, MacNaughton stresses that “one can always come in and get started at any point along the way.”

In addition to providing free materials, the Scriptorium brings former students of renowned Reed professor and calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds to teach and oversee calligraphy practice. “Because Lloyd Reynolds taught so widely throughout the Portland area, (not just at Reed), the Portland area is home to hundreds of his former students, many of whom are recognized as some of the best calligraphers in the United States. Every other week we will be inviting one of these former students to join us,” MacNaughton explains.

Reynolds taught calligraphy at Reed from 1938, when it was a non-credit, extracurricular class, until his retirement in 1969, when the Art Department offered calligraphy for credit. In his thirty-one years of teaching calligraphy at Reed, he instructed hundreds of students, many of whom went on to become successful handwriting instructors and typeface designers. After Reynolds’ retirement, Robert Palladino, an ex-Trappist monk, took over the instruction of calligraphy. Palladino served as Reed’s calligraphy professor for the next twenty-five years, teaching students, including Steve Jobs, until in 1984 the Art Department voted to change the curriculum.

The return of calligraphy to Reed arose out of a renewed interest in calligraphy on campus, resulting mostly from last year’s Lloyd Reynolds exhibition in the Cooley Art Gallery. Stephanie Snyder, the John and Anne Hauberg Curator and Director at the Cooley Art Gallery, says that an “overwhelmingly positive response” to the exhibition, paired with “a generous donation from an alumnus to begin the program and sustain it for the first few years,” drove her to found the Scriptorium.

Much like the classes that Reynolds offered early in his career as a calligraphy instructor at Reed, Scriptorium classes are not offered for credit through the Art Department. This, Snyder says, was a conscious decision. “This is a community-based extracurricular program designed to support every constituent of our community, as opposed to a program that places a burden on the Art Department to dedicate precious resources, time, and space to calligraphy,” she explains. “There is no intention to return calligraphy to Reed as a for-credit course, and no intention to return it to the Art Department. But the Art Department is supportive.”

For those involved in the Scriptorium, academic credit is of little concern anyway. They view calligraphy as a disciplined yet therapeutic pursuit, the benefits of which extend far beyond academic credit. “Calligraphy provides us with a ready opportunity to make something beautiful,” says MacNaughton. “This does not require a great deal of time—one can improve quite quickly—but training your hand to make beautiful letters does require patience, critical practice, and a certain grace. This is a physical activity, a series of movements and gestures, like dancing. But it is not done with speed in mind. It is slow, careful, and meditative, like taiji. Through practice these gestures are committed to muscle memory and they become your own.”

The practice of calligraphy can serve to round out the atmosphere of academia, says McNaughton. As he tells it, “I noticed recently, beneath the office of the president, one of those heraldic plaques that are cast into the facade of Eliot Hall, which reads ‘Mens et Manus.’ Next to it are the words ‘Science and Arts’ but, if I have this correct, doesn’t it actually translate as ‘mind and hand?’ I love this sentiment. Everybody knows that Reed is a place for training the mind, and returning the practice of calligraphy to campus is one way we can support the training of the hand.”


Want to be involved? Scriptorium takes place every Tuesday, starting October 9, from 4:30-6:30 in Psychology 102-103.

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