Sunday, February 14, 2016

What makes it Southwestern? Part 1

To understand American calligraphy, we need to look closer at the letters around us in our own regions.  On a brief and well-timed vacation to Tucson, Arizona, (it's 3° [-15° centigrade] in Boston this weekend), I'm looking at their local letters. What makes them distinctive?     
Certainly Arizona has a different history from the rest of the US: colonized by Spanish conquistadores a hundred years before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth; ruled from Spain until 1858; and joined the union last of all contiguous states, in 1912. 

Just a few of the many typefaces available that evoke the Southwest.

There seem to be four distinctive visual elements in these styles of lettering: 

  1. Spanish colonial motifs 1530-1830.
  2. Mexican motifs. 
  3. Indian materials and motifs.   
  4. Cowboy images, including materials and purposes from ranch life.    
plus a palette of colors based on dessert pigments and dyes.  
Wood type of the cowboy era
type, an

This post will just feature just the familiar calligraphy that evokes the mythical era of cowboy culture (#4 above). This is the wood type popular in the late 19th century, an American specialty that evolved to fill local printers' need for large display type.  Plentiful hardwood forests and cheap railroad shipping spread the type to the frontier.   

Next time, we will look at other Southwestern visual influences.       

1 comment:

  1. I didn't think of cowboy motifs as calligraphy. I like it! I grew up in northern California, in a rural area that was part of the gold rush era.

    I'm so excited to see the book that you create out of your research.