the dance of the pen
While there are several different recollections of how, exactly, the dance of the pen ended, here is the one most often told: By the early 1980s, Reed’s art department wanted pure focus upon modern art, which somehow calligraphy was not. Palladino found out that his course had lost its credit by reading the minutes of a faculty meeting. It was 1984, six years after Lloyd Reynolds’s death.

X is the symbol for an unknown quantity, and that’s what those who decided to get rid of calligraphy never understood: to Reynolds and Palladino (and to the more than half of the Reed student body who protested the discrediting of the class) it wasn’t arts and crafts, it was art and life. It wasn’t making pretty letters, it was making connections to other worlds.

“Maybe I would have made the same decision had I been the head of the college, not knowing the class,” Michael McPherson says. “But it wasn’t about calligraphy to me as a student—it was about an entire approach to education itself.”

“Lloyd Reynolds conveyed a grand vision of writing,” confirms Chuck Bigelow. “Those who thought it was merely a quaint, ornamental frivolity saw no reason to continue it. They saw it as penmanship. Lloyd saw it as civilization.”

You can feel it, even today, in the power of the memories. Things that were said, things that were discovered, are recalled in exact detail 35, 40, 50 years later. It was just a class, just some paper and pens and a prophet and a priest. Why do Reedies still care?

“People felt a real loss when calligraphy left Reed,” Georgiana Greenwood concludes. “It touched them so personally. There was never another course quite like that.”

Zen philosophy adorning the trees ended with the termination of Reed’s calligraphy program. “ All distances are within reach,” reads one of the “weathergrams.” Reynolds conceived the form; haiku-like poems drawn to hang in the garden.

“The tree chops the ax.”

“The horizon can be extended by standing on tiptoe.”

A dance of the pen, indeed. “You make the discovery,” Lloyd Reynolds once said. “You shove off the lid and the light is blinding and you gaze into infinity; every person is sacred, nothing is profane!” End of Article


Todd Schwartz is a writer who lives in Portland. His mother, Margaret Sprinkle ‘44, insists that Lloyd Reynolds was never cranky when he was her thesis adviser.