The Day – Letter perfect: Celebrating the art of calligraphy in Mystic for 40 years


The dozen people gathered inside the Mystic & Noank library all use pencils on tracing paper to practice, with sure hands and artistic finesse, how to create Roman capital letters.

Fran Baldwin, who runs the session, explains the intricacies of this type of lettering and gives them tips as they progress and transition to graph paper. She tells them that if they know the basic structure of letters, they will have the basics to play.

The atmosphere oscillates between quiet concentration and friendly discussions on topics such as the calligraphy lessons they have taken over the years.

So it goes at a recent monthly meeting of Mysticalligraphers. The group, in which calligraphers of all levels can share ideas and techniques, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. With the calligraphy guilds of Hartford and New Haven disbanded during this time, Mysticalligraphers is the only remaining guild in the state.

Make it an art

Lynn Anderson, who lives in Noank, was one of the founding members of the group. She recalls that in 1982, “it was a time when calligraphy was the thing. Everybody was learning it, everybody was doing it. It was all over. You could make a living teaching calligraphy, easily. “

She and two other women – Jane Schmidt, who lived in Mumford Cove and was a teacher at Noank Primary School, and Dorothy Steel, who lived in Noank; both have since died – had each started doing calligraphy on their own. Once they met, Schmidt suggested they hire a calligrapher to instruct them, as they were self-taught at the time. They invited Margaret Shepherd from Boston and said they would welcome anyone who wished to attend the session.

People came from all over. Subsequently, the organizing trio decided to continue as a group where everyone could participate in classes and workshops led by professionals, and they could also teach each other. This was the beginning of mysticaligraphs.

Over time, the popularity of calligraphy as a hobby and as a business has had its ups and downs.

“Calligraphy has gone from that kind of ‘everyone does it’ to a much more specialized thing. But there are some wonderful calligraphers working now who are really making an art of it, and that’s great,” Anderson says.

Indeed, calligraphy is an art as much as handwriting. The variety of works by members of the Mysticalligraphers is impressive proof of this. The letters are perfectly designed, although they vary, creatively and colorfully, from piece to piece. Some run with cursive grace, while others stand with fundamental strength.

Those interested in seeing their work should note that Mysticalligraphers will have exhibits at three local libraries in 2022: April at Mystic & Noank Library; August at the Groton Public Library; and November at the Waterford Public Library.

The group meets every second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Mystic & Noank Library in Mystic. In July and August, they also organize creative sessions on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

Milly Carlson, from Groton, who has been a member of Mysticalligraphers for 30 years, says, “It continues to be exciting for our members, old and new, who each have a variety of talents, to come together to learn, share and create. “

She adds, “We in the band are getting to know each other pretty well and we feel comfortable (with each other) and we feel like we’re becoming good friends.”

Mysticalligraphers currently has 38 members, and Barbara Read, a Stonington resident who has worked with Mysticalligraphers since the early 1990s, says the group is always friendly, especially to newbies.

“We share and we support each other,” says Carlson.

A rave in Yankee Magazine

Over the years, mysticaligraphers created small books and calendars, and framed and exhibited their paintings. One of the most notable efforts was a cookbook in 1984.

“We got reviews in Yankee Magazine, so it’s a blessing and a curse,” Anderson laughs. “We didn’t have a lot of (the books), and we had no system for sending them or taking orders. We just thought a few people there would appreciate them. … The reviewer, I remember, said says: ‘I don’t usually read or review cookbooks written in calligraphy because they’re so hard to read, but this one…’ She said it was wonderful, and it worked. just took off. We had to fend for ourselves, we really did.

Over the years, some people left calligraphy and went in a different artistic direction. Anderson, for example, is now known locally for her wide-ranging art (her current favorite pursuits are writing and illustrating children’s books, editorial cartooning, and watercolor painting). She remains an honorary but non-active member of Mysticalligraphers.

“Why does he live? »

People are mostly texting now; handwriting is rarely necessary. People can print wedding invitations by computer rather than having someone do the calligraphy for them.

“So why does it live? It lives because it’s beautiful writing — because maybe we miss it,” Anderson says. “No one does handwriting anymore. I take notes at meetings, and people look over my shoulder and say, ‘Wow, you have great handwriting.'”

Not all calligraphers bring this art to their daily writing. Anderson, however, says she brings calligraphy to everything she does.

She remembers a teacher who was also a member of Mysticalligraphers saying that calligraphy was like dancing.

“And I think she’s right. There’s an athletic quality and a rhythm to it,” Anderson said.

Fine handwriting not required

How does a person become good at calligraphy? Practice, practice, practice, of course.

While teaching calligraphy in adult education programs in Norwich and Stonington, Ms Read explains: “I had a lot of success (with the students). It’s as if you were playing an instrument. If you practice every day, even for half an hour, 20 minutes, you can do it. And you don’t have to have great handwriting to do that.

Indeed, Mysticalligraphers co-president Annette Crittenden of Madison says her handwriting was so illegible as a young student that the nuns literally threw her notebook out the window. And she says it hasn’t gotten much better.

But, she says, “studying calligraphy requires you to slow down and practice mindfully.”

She says it’s all about proportions, and there can be a whole story in a single letter.

For Crittenden, what is so fascinating about calligraphy is “the combination of art and words. I am a voracious reader and collector of quotes. what I was looking for! It combines everything in one place – illustration, painting, letters, deep words from scientists, artists, everyone. ‘”

how they started

The members of Mysticalligraphers came to calligraphy through different paths.

Read, who was an elementary school teacher and became a sub after her children grew up, recalls seeing a student use a calligraphy marker, which makes a wide stroke when a person bends down and a stroke end when it rises. She thought it looked interesting and was able to try it out. Her husband gave her a calligraphy kit “and from there, I was taken”, she says.

Carlson, meanwhile, was first drawn to art when he saw a “magnificent” international exhibition of calligraphy at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London in 1991-92 “and that’s what made me drew in. It was fantastic.”

“It became clear to me that this was a special sector of artists who made beautiful works of art, who combined lettering, text, beautiful calligraphic linework,” she says. She adds that, since that time, calligraphy, or the art of letters, has “developed to the point that the work may or may not be legible. … Thus, this sector of art goes far beyond beyond just the usual “beautiful writing” concept. It’s beautiful art.”

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