The 35th International Calligraphy Conference comes to Swannanoa

PERFECT PENMANSHIP: Local scribe Annie Cicale, whose work is seen here, is the co-director of this year's International Calligraphy Conference. She will teach a class as well as exhibit at the Grovewood Gallery. A former chemical engineer, she now travels internationally to teach calligraphy. Image courtesy of Cicale

The White House has several calligraphers on staff to produce invitations, name cards and more, according to Moe Hoxie, co-director of A Show of Hands, the annual International Calligraphy Conference. In fact, the East Wing of the presidential residence is home to a graphics and calligraphy office. It preserves the tradition of calligraphy in the White House, which dates to 1801.

The art of calligraphy takes center stage at a local event, on the campus of Warren Wilson College, from Saturday, June 25, to Saturday, July 2. There, approximately 275 participants will explore the art form. Instructors are traveling from as far as Ireland, Australia and Norway to teach beginning to advanced students. (Next year, the traveling conference will be held in Utah.)

“It’s more than lettering; it’s also artistic expression,” says Hoxie, who is active in the Weaverville arts scene. “Composition, design, color and purpose are very important factors in calligraphy.” The craft and concepts of calligraphic mark-making will be explored at A Show of Hands, with classes including italic forms, alphabet history, brushwork and inscription carving, as well as wider investigations, such as abstraction.

During the week of the conference, public events at Warren Wilson College will include a faculty exhibition at Elizabeth Holden Gallery and a lecture. In conjunction with A Show of Hands, Grovewood Gallery plans to host a calligraphy exhibition that will be on display through Sunday, July 24. (See sidebar for details.)

This is the first time that the conference will be held in the Southeastern U.S. The annual gathering began 35 years ago, at St. John’s University in Minnesota. In 1981, about 600 calligraphers traveled to that inaugural gathering, signaling the beginning of an artistic community passionate about lettering.

North Carolina has an active network of calligraphers. Founded in 1979, The Carolina Lettering Arts Society is a statewide organization based in Fairview that hosts workshops, develops exhibitions and produces a biannual journal. With three regional subsets, statewide calligraphers can find community chapters in the Triangle area, on the coast or with the “Mountain Scribes” in Asheville. Hoxie and conference co-director Annie Cicale are both active with the Scribes, and many of the group’s members are involved in the conference planning.

“Most folks think of lettering as fancy handwriting on envelopes or wonderful resolutions and certificates honoring someone special,” Cicale says. “Indeed, that is a large part of the bread-and-butter work of a modern scribe.” Locally, businesses like 7 Ton Design and Letterpress Co. offer calligraphy as part of their wedding services.

Cicale goes on to explain that a calligrapher’s work can go beyond the decorative. It can “enhance the meaning of the chosen text” through expressive letters that are finely crafted and integrated into a well-designed page, taking the written word “to a higher level, allowing the viewer to experience the text in a visual way.”

As the debate rages about whether or not cursive should be taught in schools, there is much dialogue about the value of handwriting. This society may continue its steady path toward communication by keyboard and emoji, but in the art circles where the handmade has value, calligraphy finds both makers and appreciators.

WHAT: 35th International Calligraphy Conference, A Show of Hands,
WHERE: Warren Wilson College, 701 Warren Wilson Road, Swannanoa
WHEN: Saturday, June 25, to Saturday, July 2. $1,010 off-campus/$1,560 on campus


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