Calligraphy artists have brushes with greatness

NEIGHBORS

October 25, 2001|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN THE WRITTEN word is transformed from ordinary letters on a page into a unique and stylized art form, the result is called calligraphy.

Artists from the calligraphy group Pen in Hand expertly apply this charm and originality to calendars, maps, books, invitations, frames and decorated boxes. The group will display them at its annual show and sale Nov. 2-4 at the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce building.

The calligraphers are Lynne Carnes and Joan Machinchick of Arnold, Marilyn Gaver, Suzanne Heany and Jan Lynn of Severna Park, and Tamara Stoneburner of Ashburn, Va.

Machinchick speaks for the group when she says that one of the greatest benefits of being a calligrapher is "the intimacy that customers allow them" - the sharing of life's most precious events, such as marriage, birth and death.

Before beginning a project, the artists spend time with their client to develop a clear understanding of what the client expects. This sense of responsibility once led to an urgent deadline for Carnes, Heany and Machinchick.

They worked feverishly to complete a book of poems for the mother of a young teen, a gifted writer who had been killed in an auto accident. Several copies of the handcrafted and hand-printed book were presented as a gift to the mother, and the artists recall that the woman and her husband stayed up all night deciding which of their dearest friends would receive one of the precious books.

Peace came when the choices were made. Two months later the mother lost her battle with cancer.

Though each calligrapher has her own style, calligraphy is based not on fancy swirls and serifs, as you might expect, but on the simple construction of block letters like the ones first-graders learn, says Carnes.

The tools of the trade, however, are anything but elementary.

"We don't use fountain pens or markers, except for fun," says Carnes. "It's just not precise."

Carnes studied Chinese painting to refine her brush technique before returning as an adult to calligraphy. Like all calligraphers, she uses flat and pointed brushes, and pens dipped in ink.

Some members of Pen in Hand teach calligraphy. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Carnes has taught it for 10 years at Anne Arundel Community College.

Lynn attended Pratt Institute of Art in New York and graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She has taught calligraphy at AACC, the University of Maryland and in her home studio. Machinchick, also a graduate of Maryland Institute, taught silk screen at the old Severna Park YMCA and calligraphy at AACC.

The work of Stoneburner, a graduate of Roanoke College in Salem, Va., has been shown at the National Cathedral in Washington and Strathmore Hall in Maryland, and was featured in Martha Stewart's Living magazine. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Heany is a professional calligrapher whose customers include the White House, the State Department and the American Red Cross.

Gaver, a student of Lynn's, works at Severna Park Photo. She designs calligraphy for use at Harundale Presbyterian Church.

Of all Pen in Hand's projects, the calligraphers say they prefer the design and construction of limited-edition artists' books. Hand-bound and individually designed to complement the subject matter, each book is a compilation of texture, line and color. One book of poetry about the night is covered in dark, tactile art paper, shimmering with silver stars. A book of nature is as subtle as a butterfly's breath.

The calligraphers incorporate computer technology to augment their original artwork. One series of photos was copied again and again to obtain the grainy quality the artist was looking for.

When intensive-care nurses wanted something more than traditional pictures for the walls of the new IC unit at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Heany and Stoneburner were called. They collaborated on more than 30 pieces of art based on famous quotations for the unit's waiting room and patient rooms.

Lynn lettered the names of saints onto stair risers and along the aisle in the sanctuary at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church. When some of the words began to wear off, she and her fellow calligraphers in Pen in Hand had to lie on their stomachs on the floor, in reverse Michelangelo style, to repair the work.

Invitations to weddings and parties keep Pen in Hand members busy. Heany once fashioned an invitation to the Naval Academy ring dance for a midshipman who wanted "something more" for his date, who was also a midshipman. The creation was highlighted with blue and gold and sealed with an anchor.

Machinchick incorporates the appropriate wedding style, casual or formal, into the type and color of paper, ribbons, letters and designs she selects.

It might come as a surprise that calligraphy plays a role in the workings of the federal government. When someone receives a presidential appointment, the elegant certificate he or she is handed is often the work of Heany.

Working for David A. Hobbs Inc. & Tolley Studios in Washington, she handles hand-lettering assignments from the White House.

Completing a certificate is arduous. A request for an ambassadorial appointment, for example, arrives on Heany's drawing board from the White House via the State Department. Once she prepares the certificate, it goes back to the White House for the president's signature. The certificate travels back and forth to be signed by the secretary of state, embossed with the presidential seal and dated by the calligrapher.

After days of work and the use of several couriers, the document is presented to its recipient.

The hours for the group's show are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 3, and noon to 5:30 p.m. Nov. 4. The chamber's building is at 1 Holly Ave. Show and sale information: 410-757-0548.

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