Mescalito Meets Calligraphy Class

Death is a whorl, he said.

Given my choice of text, what do you think that I had been reading back in my dorm room?

Cleaning out a stash of frames, mats, framed photos, some of Dad’s old watercolors, etc. today, I found this.

It is work from my beginning calligraphy class at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where the study of calligraphy shaped the visual identity from the 1940s–1980s in particular, and to a lesser extent today.

My teacher, the former monk Robert Palladino, was forced out in the 1980s, apparently by a cabal of humanities professors who felt that calligraphy was just pretty writing but not really intellectually serious.That is my take on it; in his interview Palladino says that his half-time job was sacrificed so the studio arts program (always an orphan) could hire a full-time sculptor. But I think that he was too nice a guy (and hampered by his half-time appointment) to be an active player in the game of faculty politics and to build alliances to fight for his program. (I saw something similar happen to two other professors, who had in common that they were female and foreign-born.)

The professors who sneered at calligraphy were wrong, of course. If you took Lloyd Reynolds’ or Palladino’s courses, you ended up getting a whole history of the Western tradition, since the study of calligraphy — like music  history — brought with it lineages of thinkers, rulers, and texts. And in everyone’s favorite anecdote, the fact that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs sat it on one of Palladino’s classes influenced the screen fonts and graphics of Macintosh computers a decade later.

Since 2012, an effort has been made to bring back the formal study of calligraphy via “the Scriptorium.”

Me, I just took one semester’s worth. I was a little overawed by my roommate, who sucked down calligraphy like oxygen and went on to become a professional calligrapher and graphic designer in San Francisco. I was a toddler scribbling on the wall with a crayon compared to him.

4 thoughts on “Mescalito Meets Calligraphy Class

  1. Calligraphy may enact magic. Calligraphers may practice witchcraft. Spells and sigils may appear beautiful or wonderful and tap earthly energies, stellar tides, or the powers of Deities. My pen moves equally as a wand. Every secret name partakes of the ductus of its shaping.

  2. As the story goes, Steve Jobs obsession with fonts started because of his studies at Reed College. So in a very real way, beautiful and proportional computer fonts can be traced to Reed College.

    How’s that for changing the World?

    • If you want to find the “the story goes,” follow some of those links. Reed is proud of the Steve Jobs connection, even though he was there for just a year. But he take — or sit in on — Palladino’s beginner class, and he learnt something

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