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Calligraphers take pride in work

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A neighbor once asked Sharon McKay how she could get so excited about 26 letters.

It's something only a calligrapher would understand.

``If they aren't crazy about the art, people think we are crazy,'' said McKay, president of Sooner Scribes Calligraphy Guild, an Oklahoma City group organized to share and advance the art of calligraphy.

Calligraphy is defined as beautiful handwriting, especially as an art.

``We are always trying to pull people into the art to share our knowledge and keep it going,'' McKay said. ``I first learned calligraphy when I took a class on Roman letters in 1979. I think if you enjoy it, once you start, you can't quit, or you don't like it and drop out.''

She said patience and attention to detail are attributes of a dedicated calligrapher. It's an ancient, time-consuming, intricate art.

McKay, 59, said calligraphy is used for much more than wedding invitations and poetry. In fact, she said it is nearly limitless.

A wall in her workroom demonstrates the bold, big use of calligraphy favored by McKay. She painted a large flower and used her calligraphy skills to write the sentiment, ``Dance as if no one's watching!''

She has lettered her kitchen walls with the names of herbs, spices and flavorings. And she enjoys working on glass.

Many calligraphers are fascinated with the history of the art.

``The scribes were the link to the future,'' McKay said. ``I think of them sitting by candlelight, trying to preserve information.''

She also thinks of the calligraphers forced out of business in the 16th century by Johannes Gutenberg's printing press.

Hand lettering has vitality and flow, McCall said, and is not as laborious as some think. The process is the joy, and the end result the delight.

The art that calligraphers produce has nothing to do with stencils or computerized fonts. The very idea fills calligraphers with disdain. They are not in a hurry.

Wendy Fox, 53, is a member of the Sooner Scribes and The Magnificent Seven, a group of seven dedicated, experienced calligraphers who like to challenge themselves with difficult projects. Some of them have taught calligraphy and often attend calligraphy workshops.

``Calligraphy doesn't have to be formal,'' Fox said, noting that there are many styles available to calligraphers. ``I have always loved handwriting, and I'm a paper person. I like to design Christmas cards, and I use calligraphy to write a verse and address the envelopes.''

Fox said calligraphers have a vast, rich supply of papers, inks and tools available to them. She said some calligraphers use quills and Chinese ink stick. She said some paper sells for $12 a sheet, and there are handmade papers. This is a process many calligraphers enjoy doing.

``We don't limit ourselves to just letters,'' Fox said. ``We make things to put our letters in.''

McKay and others in the Magnificent Seven seek out experts in their field, and one of their favorite seminars is Literally Letters, held yearly at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, N.M.

The ultimate calligraphy project is the Saint John's Bible, which according to its publisher, The Liturgical Press, is a monumental achievement. It is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned since the printing press was invented five centuries ago. ``Illuminated'' refers to the use of elaborate designs and decorations in the script.

The artistic, cultural and spiritual endeavor incorporates many medieval practices. The team of scribes, led by world-renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, uses natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold- and silver-leaf gild.

Experienced calligraphers don't want to scare away newcomers to the art. They want to pass on the art and welcome beginners to their guild.

``Calligraphy is not a dead art,'' Fox said.
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