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the dance of the pen

Day one forward, calligraphy clicked with the Reed character—at least the way Reynolds taught it. Because from literature to writing, from art history to graphic arts to calligraphy, Reynolds’s classes were never simply about the thing—they were about everything.

“The calligraphy got students to come to the class,” remembers teacher and author Jaki Svaren ’50. “Then Reynolds took off, talking about the whole of the human condition. It certainly wasn’t the letterforms that kept us entranced. As he made so clear, when you raise a daily activity to the level of art, you begin to look differently at the other seemingly simple aspects of your life. Lloyd Reynolds was trying to open us up to the miracle.”

Every subject and opinion was fair game, revealing themselves with vertical and horizontal strokes of the pen. “Reynolds was an incredibly charismatic teacher,” says well-known type designer Sumner Stone ’67, “and his interests were somewhat broader than the traditional academic program of Reed at that time. He was willing to talk about religion and spirituality. The classes were a window on the relationship between visual arts and culture in a very broad sense. And then there was the practical aspect—with calligraphy you could actually make things, and that became almost a cult! There were always people lettering signs and posters that went up around campus, and everyone would critique them.”


For many Reedies, calligraphy was a way to remember that they weren’t simply cerebellums on legs. “Working with your hands and your mind,” recalls commercial sign writer Lee Littlewood ’68, “I think that was the great attraction of calligraphy to Reed students—you did so much thinking that the chance to do something with your fingers was hard to pass up. And as we made the motions, Reynolds showed us that the world of letterforms was made up of artifacts from real people. If you knew how to look at calligraphy, if you looked carefully, you could still see the hands moving.”

Reynolds’ life teachings seemed to affect most students who encountered him on the Reed campus: later Zen abbott and Beat poet Phil Whalen ’51 corresponded with Reynolds for years after graduating. Peter Norton ’65, of Norton Utilities fame, signed his name on Symantec manuals in “Reynolds italic.”

Campbell portrait

Grand was Lloyd Reynolds’ vision of writing, according to Chuck Bigelow ’67, an associate professor of computer science and art at Stanford University and a noted type designer. Many of Bigelow’s fonts and those of his design partner Kris Holmes ’72 appear in every Macintosh computer. “Calligraphy has its beautiful aspects,” he says, “but that is hardly where Lloyd’s classes started or stopped. Lloyd saw calligraphy as the visible means of literate expression and, through that, as a gateway to the history and lore of civilization. Moreover, it is a link between one’s own simple, utilitarian practice of handwriting and the accumulation of knowledge and scholarship through the ages. When you write in an italic hand, you are making the same kinds of motions that Queen Elizabeth I made when she practiced Chancery Cursive as a teenager; the same motions as Poggio Bracciolini, a fifteenth-century chancellor of Florence; the same motions as Michelangelo. And if you write a Carolingian hand, you are making the same moves as the notable scribes that Charlemagne assembled in his court in the late eighth century: Alcuin of York, Peter of Pisa, Theodulf the Visigoth, Paul the Deacon, and Dungal the Irishman.”

Reynolds’ calligraphy class was not your basic arts and crafts course.

reed college bulletin

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