Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nowadays I'm thinking a lot about American calligraphy, as distinct from the European and English calligraphy it came from.  It seems as if American calligraphers do not realize how many of our alphabets styles are different from the rest of the world's writing--both in how they look and in how we put them to use.  We are so accustomed to being a cultural stepchild of the Old World that we don't know how far we've come. 
I've been reading about Art Deco, and the Gothic Revival that it overlapped with.  Both originated in Europe and England but got Americanized here.  Just as they were both winding down, they gave rise to a unique American architectural style called "Collegiate Gothic" with lettering to match.  (Most architectural styles in fact do inspire a corresponding style of calligraphy that looks good in inscriptions and signage.)  You can see Collegiate Gothic buildings all over America: there are examples at Trinity College, Boston College, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, and Bryn Mawr, to name a few.  Concrete letters, touched up with gold leaf, add simple ornament to this stripped-down style.  
Collegiate Gothic wasn't simple enough for Frank Lloyd Wright, however, who had an opinion on everything that was built in the 20th century.  He famously said that he would have to stay in Harkness Tower at Yale so as not to have to look at it.  
Who would have thought that the last gasp of Gothic Revival would give life to this very American style of calligraphy?  And how many of us really paid attention to its independent identity?  Now I've got to go looking for pictures; photographers seem to prefer vistas of soaring towers to details of inscriptions.