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By Laurie Lindquist

His business card, written in Renaissance italic, reads “priest and calligrapher.” At 70, Robert Palladino moves at a brisk pace, keeping up with the requirements of two parishes and diocesan work, with calligraphy projects, Gregorian chant, and a 20-acre sheep farm. He has kept this kind of energetic schedule throughout his life and balances it with a contemplative focus on pen strokes, musical notes, prayer, and study.

From 1969 to 1984 Palladino worked as a calligraphy instructor at Reed. He maintained the course format used by his predecessor and teacher, Lloyd Reynolds. Each of Palladino’s classes included a lecture in paleography and a demonstration of letter forms. “We would concentrate on one style of writing at a time,” Palladino says. “I would lecture not only on that particular style of writing, but what was going on in the world at that time that conditioned the kind of art that evolved. All those things are very important.

Calligraphy is graphic music
moving with rhythmic gesture
across a field of silent space
which surrounds it
and gives it dimension.

Robert J. Palladino

When he joined the Trappist order at 17 in New Mexico in 1950, Palladino’s handwriting was already commendable and earned him a few lessons from the monastery’s scribe, Fr. Maurice Malloy, who had a Ph.D. in heraldry and an extensive knowledge of letter forms. Malloy introduced Palladino to the broad-edged pen, and from that point on the young monk worked independently to develop his art, studying paleography in the monastery library, including the letter forms displayed in encyclopedias. Eventually he received a copy of Arrighi’s First Writing Manual and later some original manuscript pages from which he could practice.

Shortly after the Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe relocated to Lafayette, Oregon, in 1955, he became the monastery’s scribe as well as its choirmaster. Both positions were integrated into the required 10-year study for ordination and monastic duties. Palladino helped start the monastery’s bookbindery. He worked in the orchards, pruning acres of cherry, plum, and walnut trees, and running the tractor. He ran the freezing and canning operation after the harvest. Work was at a maximum and rest, a minimum.

His calligraphic duties expanded from signage—extensive in a silent monastery—and graphic work for the choir to include projects for others, such as the Benedictine Press at Mount Angel Abbey. It also attracted the interest of visitors to his abbey, including students of Reynolds’s. Their reports back to the Reed instructor began a process that ended with Palladino receiving training from Reynolds in italic handwriting in 1960. (Palladino’s correspondence with Alfred Fairbank, the English expert on italic handwriting, had alerted him to Reynolds’s presence in Oregon.

When Palladino decided to leave the monastery in 1968, he joined Reynolds at Reed, studying with his advanced calligraphy class. That fall he volunteered as Reynolds’s assistant and took classes at the University of Portland. He spent the next six months at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, with calligraphic master Fr. Edward Catich, studying stone inscription, Roman majuscules, painting, drawing, silk screening, and art history.

When he returned to Portland, Reynolds asked him to teach the beginning calligraphy course at Reed. In 1969 Reynolds retired, and Palladino took over as Reed’s part-time instructor of calligraphy. A year later he added night classes at Portland State University and the Portland Art Museum to his teaching load. He also taught calligraphy at Marylhurst, studied gold leaf, hand-lettered all of the medical licenses for the state of Oregon, and demonstrated and lectured widely in the local schools and community. He met and married Catherine Halverson, principal clarinet player for the Oregon symphony, and they had a son, Eric. The three eventually undertook the restoration of a pioneer farm on the Old Barlow Trail.

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