Alumni Profileswinter2007

A New Type of Challenge

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Sumner Stone '67 in his orchard in California's Capay Valley

Sumner Stone ’67 has spent the past few decades as a teacher, calligrapher, and graphic designer, most notably serving as director of typography at Adobe Systems in Mountain View, California, during the 1990s, where he created a line of original typefaces. He’s among a handful of former calligraphy students at Reed (including Steve Jobs) who have gone on to profoundly influence the way type looks today on computer screens and printed documents around the world. For Adobe, Stone created a “super family” of type known as ITC Stone, including ITC Stone Serif, ITC Stone Sans, ITC, and Stone Informal.

Recently, Stone has turned his considerable energy and design talents toward California native plants. Seven years ago, he moved north from Silicon Valley to the Capay Valley in Yolo County, where he purchased a 70-acre plot, about half of which was covered with old walnut trees. He named it, appropriately enough, Alphabet Farm.

“I’d come to a juncture in my life where I could leave suburbia,” he says. “My daughter had graduated from high school and I’d fantasized about living in the country for a long time. I was freelancing and could do that anywhere.”

A friend led him to the area around the small towns of Guinda and Rumsey, where the phone book consisted of two 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper (copied front and back). “It’s remarkably remote scenery for a two-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Stone. Even better, he says, as he stops for a moment to watch two Cooper’s Hawks circling high in the air above him, “I found a very small close-knit community which I have enjoyed immensely.”

These days, Stone puts his calligraphic talents to a host of uses—from painting a sign for a local gathering of organic farmers and musicians (it was called a “hoesdown”), to helping design  a native plant garden. 

In addition to his freelance business, Stone Type Foundry, Stone has spent the past few years tending his old walnut orchard and inventorying the native plants he finds on the farm, which includes several microclimates. So far, he’s found 160 varieties, and created a poster of 35 Capay Valley native flowers. “I have always been a plants person,” says Stone, “but since moving here, much more so.”

Currently, Stone is working with county officials and members of the local community to create a native plants garden at Vernon A. Nichols Park in Guinda, California, along the banks of Cache Creek. The project will include a demonstration garden, an oak lands restoration effort, and a gathering place for visitors.

“We immediately got such an enthusiastic response from the community,” says Stone. “People wanted to come work, they donated money. It’s been a process of community energy.” Now the participants are trying to work out how to balance a variety of uses for the site, including protecting
and propagating native plant species, plus education and recreation. “This is not a thing I’ve ever done before,” he says. “But I am a designer and I love these kinds of problems, creating an appropriate environment for plants, resolving  the conflicts that come up.”

The new garden will be named the Will Baker Native Plant Garden, in memory of a longtime local resident, who was very active and much loved in the Capay Valley. Baker, who died in 2005, taught at Reed in the mid 1960s. “He was a young professor of English when I was there,” Stone remembers, adding that Baker went on to teach English at UC Davis, and was known to the Capay Valley community as “a farmer, cowboy, and poet.”

“So, the native plants garden will have two connections to Reed College,” Stone says with a smile.

Karin Evans