Muriel M. Parker, 87, taught calligraphy to thousands


Muriel M. Parker, who found grace and functionality in the art of calligraphy and inspired thousands of others to pick up a pen and learn the craft, died of cancer Sept. 22 at her Parkville home. She was 87.

"My philosophy of calligraphy is simply a confirmation of the basic meaning of the word itself - to create a thing of beauty," Mrs. Parker said in a 1983 interview.

"Calligraphy can be everyone's handicraft and from this fact derives the joy I feel as a teacher in seeing the thrill and excitement experienced by each student when the realization comes that it is the angle of the edge of the pen that makes the thicks and thins in italic writing."

Mrs. Parker was the author of four books on the subject: Calligraphy: a Practical Handbook for the Beginner; Historic Calligraphic Alphabets; Illuminated Letter Designs in the Historiated Middle Ages; and Drollery Designs in Illuminated Manuscripts.

Born Muriel Millicent Manship in Philadelphia, her love of art and music began in her childhood. She became an accomplished painter and pianist and earned a bachelor's degree from Moore Institute of Art in 1940.

"Our letter courses were exceptional and instilled in me an enduring love of alphabets of all ages," she recalled in the 1983 interview.

She taught art for two years at Germantown Friends School before marrying Edward Hanley Parker, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. engineer, and moving to Baltimore.

Mrs. Parker then settled into the comfortable role of suburban homemaker while raising her four children.

After visiting the Calligraphy and Illumination exhibit at the Peabody Library in 1959 and a subsequent 1961 exhibit, Calligraphy and Handwriting in America, 1710-1962, Mrs. Parker was inspired to purchase a book of instructions on italic lettering and attempted to write letters in that style using an Osmiroid fountain pen.

The art of calligraphy dates to the 1500s when italic writing became popular because it was faster and easier for the writer than Gothic or Old English lettering. Italics, which began with the Roman Catholic Church and the merchant class ,quickly found favor within the royal courts of Europe.

Mrs. Parker enrolled in calligraphy classes. By 1975, she began teaching her own classes at The Mousetrap, a Baltimore craftshop, and for the next 25 years taught students at Roland Park Country School, Hampton Mansion, Towson University and Harford and Essex community colleges.

Mrs. Parker, who lamented the invention of the ballpoint pen and its influence on handwriting, praised the artistic and individualistic possibilities afforded writers when using fountain pens.

"It does something for your inner self if you can create beauty with an everyday thing like writing," Mrs. Parker told The Evening Sun in a 1978 interview.

Until the late 1990s, when she was well into her 80s, Mrs. Parker was prolifically producing precisely lettered certificates, diplomas, announcements and invitations for private clients from her well-ordered studio in her Moyer Avenue home.

She also produced public pronouncements and proclamations for state and local government, education associations and public health agencies.

"She certainly furthered the art of calligraphy in Baltimore through her teaching. She was such an inspiration to thousand of students," said Helen B. Lacy, a former student and calligraphy teacher.

"Her students soon caught her fever for the graceful, creative style of writing, and they eventually formed a guild called the Hampton Scribes, followed by another named the Northeast Baltimore Scribes," said a son, Lawrence E. Parker of Medford, Ore.

"It takes great patience and discipline," said Alice E. Dorshow, who studied with Mrs. Parker. "The way she taught meant spending hours and hours tracing and copying letters to learn their basic structure."

Mrs. Parker was adept at combing colors with lettering.

"She often embellished her work with art in a variety of media, or with gold leaf or gold paint in the manner of medieval illuminated manuscripts," her son said.

"Her years of constructive and oh, so gentle, criticism and constant interest have given me a skill which adds much joy to my life," Ms. Dorshow wrote in a note to Mrs. Parker's family. "I believe that the beauty of her lettering mirrored the beauty of her `self;' both added a measure of calm and grace to this crazy, chaotic world of ours."

Services are private.

Surviving in addition to her husband and son are another son, Douglas A. Parker of Frederick; a daughter, Judith P. Groene of Bielefeld, Germany; and two grandchildren. Another son, Richard H. Parker, died in 1993.

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