My mother Adele had a spirited and fearless appetite for learning. She approached everything in life with zest and when she set her mind to it she could do just about anything…she was an inspiration to me.
When I was little and she was busy rearing us kids, she pursued a variety of creative interests. It was during this time that she decided to learn calligraphy, print making (with linoleum cuts), and book binding.
She started by teaching herself all about calligraphy.
She studied Medieval illuminated manuscripts, and different handwritten alphabets until she found a style that she could make her own.
In the beginning I remember she used feathers to make her pens – I think they must have been goose feathers – they were big and sturdy and white. She cut the tip of the feather at the exact angle for it to fill with ink and to make it form the right width of line as she wrote out text. Eventually she started using a pen that had interchangeable nibs. The pen was easier to use than feathers, but it was still a very difficult thing to do properly.
It took a lot of practicing to get the right style so that she could form the letters without thinking too much. The letters needed to look even and balanced and have a visual rhythm to them.
It wasn’t enough for her to just learn calligraphy – she also learned how to bind the pages she made into books.
She decided to make a book of her favorite poems – and to make three copies of it by hand; one for my grandmother, one for my sister, and one for me (more on this book in an upcoming post).
To illustrate the book she made a different linoleum cut for each poem.
She printed each picture by hand, using a large smooth spoon to rub the ink from the lino block onto paper. (She later bought an etchings press and a font of type to use for making other books).
One of our neighbors in Bronxville was Mr. Valenti Angelo. Mr. Angelo was a famous artist, book illustrator and author and he helped my mother learn how to make and bind books; it was very generous of him.
My mother took me to Mr. Angelo’s house on several occasions. Mrs. Angelo would make tea or lemonade and we’d sit and visit for a few minutes in the garden or the living room before going upstairs to his studio where he kept his printing presses and his beautiful paintings.
He would let me look at books that he’d written and illustrated while he talked to my mother. I remember liking his children’s book Nino so much that he gave me a copy.