Local female calligraphers make their mark with group

NEIGHBORS

September 17, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN A fast-paced world where computers offer their users almost every imaginable font at the click of a mouse, it is hard to believe that the age-old art of calligraphy still exists.

A group of women, who call themselves Her Nibs - a name chosen for the point on lettering pens they use when working on their craft - has been meeting in private homes each month for more than 20 years. These folks sit down with special pens, inks and papers and draw each letter with precision. They think of lettering as an art form.

The group consists of about 12 women, one-third of them from our neighborhood. Its founder is Louise Meggenson, a former Long Reach resident, who taught at the Columbia Art Center for 13 years and at Howard Community College. She now lives in Ashton. Most members of Her Nibs are Meggenson's former students.

The group describes itself, in its literature, as "a working guild in the tradition of medieval artisans who joined together to preserve and expand the ancient art of beautiful hand lettering." While many of the women have other jobs, all are working calligraphers who are paid for their efforts.

"There is a mystique to handwritten work that can't be duplicated," Meggenson said.

The women have been commissioned to make items such as wedding certificates and hand-lettered wedding vows, which they personalize with details such as a drawing of the bride's bouquet as a border around the text. Members of Her Nibs also write poems for use as wall hangings.

"The hardest thing is to do lettering on one-of-a-kind pieces like baseballs, wood and glass," said Colette Roberts, a member from Owen Brown who owns Oh My Word, a calligraphy shop in Ellicott City.

The world of calligraphy has no delete key and no spell check. But that doesn't mean calligraphers don't make mistakes. What happens then?

"If you look back," said Linda Pech, a group member from Long Reach, "there are entire manuscripts from the 1700s with entire lines written above them" to insert forgotten words.

Some mistakes aren't quite as easy to fix .

"I was working on a Quaker wedding certificate," Meggenson said. "Those are signed by everyone who attends the wedding; there were probably about 150 signatures. I was using a hypodermic needle to load a pen and it shot all over the paper. I had to scrape all the ink off."

Other mishaps, however, can turn out for the best.

"I had someone bring me a certificate from the Great Wall of China," Roberts said. "She wanted her name and the date written on it. I used black ink, but it turned green [because of a chemical in the paper]. I was going to die. I didn't know what to do. She loved it. She said I matched something that was on the certificate."

But calligraphers and customers alike feel the end result is worth the trouble.

"The most gratifying thing about doing what we do comes from the amazed and grateful look and thanks we get from a client when we have taken their words and put them into beautiful hand-lettering," Roberts said. "I don't think any of us has ever had a dissatisfied customer. Everyone is truly appreciative - and that alone is worth all the hard work."

Her Nibs will hold a workshop at the east Columbia branch library in January. Participants will make Valentine's Day cards. The group is working on its annual friendship calendar.

Other east Columbia members are Claire Eaton of Long Reach and D.J. Schmid of Kings Contrivance.

Information: Mary Linden, 410-730-0197.

For information on calligraphy in general, visit the Web sites of the Washington Calligraphers Guild, www.calligraphers guild.org, or the Association for the Calligraphic Arts, www.calli graphicarts.org.

New officers

Congratulations to four freshmen at Oakland Mills High School who were elected to represent their class. Lisa Tran is president, Elizabeth Bieber is vice president, Alexandra Calvin is secretary and John Thorton is treasurer.

Spaghetti dinner

Enjoy pasta while supporting the Oakland Mills High School Booster Club. The annual spaghetti dinner will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 26 in the school cafeteria.

Highlights for this year's dinner include performances by the school's band and cheerleaders. Door prizes will be given.

"This is one of our largest fund-raisers of the year," said Missy Sullivan, spaghetti dinner committee chairwoman. "The Boosters support not only athletics but all of the after-school activities."

Tickets are $5 in advance; $7 at the door. Tickets or information: Sullivan at 410-715-0573.

Donate old cell phones

The Howard County Police Department is collecting old cell phones that will be programmed to call 911 and given to senior citizens.

You can drop off your old cell phone at Amherst House in the Kings Contrivance Village Center.

Information: 410-381-9600.

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