Lloyd J. Reynolds Collection

Autobiographical Notes

Lloyd J. Reynolds, 1977

Letters have fascinated me ever since I found their power and beauty when I was five years old.  I learned to read.  I was always drawing and letters were a favorite subject. 

Living in a poor farming community in eastern Washington, we had no electricity and no plumbing.  We did have books.  In the evenings we gathered around the fireplace and read aloud, passing the book along.  I wanted to be one of the readers.  That was 1907.  In 1914 we moved to Portland, Oregon.  When in high school and college I was on the art staff, and was often the art editor, of student publications.  I did the lettering.

Although I hung around sign shops, advertising letters did not interest me as much as did book types.   I graduated from Oregon State in 1924, with a degree in Forestry.  I could never carry enough books in my packsack so instead of working in the woods I did advertising lettering in 1924-25.  I found that I didn't like advertising, and I never liked the letters I made.  I decided that teaching English was preferable and went back to school—this time to the University of Oregon.  I taught high school in 1926-27 and returned to the University to do graduate work.  William Blake, John Ruskin, and William Morris had become my mentors.  All three hated commercialism and industrialism and valued art, literature, and book-making.

In 1929 I received my degree and was hired by Reed College, where I taught for the next forty years.  Although I had repeatedly given up on lettering, thinking that either I lacked the necessary talent or that there must be a secret known to only a few, the letters would not leave me alone.  Thinking that there was little likelihood of my ever finding the insight I hoped for, I still kept ordering new books.  In the spring of 1934 I ordered Edward Johnston's "Writing and Illuminating and Lettering", thinking that it was probably only another book of alphabets.  I shall never forget that May afternoon when I read the Author's Preface and the first two chapters.  It was like a bolt of lightning.  Here was the insight I had been seeking.  I was furious with myself for not finding it myself.  It seemed perfectly obvious—the only logical approach is the historical one.  Learn to cut reed and quill pens and write your way through the history of the alphabet!  For the next few years I devoted almost all my spare time to paleography, studying alphabets chronologically, pen in hand.

As I acquired skill with the edged pen, the college offices asked me to write out bulletin board notices.   Students saw the work and asked me to teach them the skill.  For over ten years I taught informal, non-credit classes.  In 1948 it became possible to teach a year course on the history of alphabetic communication, with a laboratory.  We met for three hours each session twice a week.  The first hour each time was lecture, the rest studio work with the edged pen or printing types.  Ever since coming to Reed I had taught creative writing and students wrote out or printed original poems on a huge Washington-Hoe hand press.

Norman Paasche, a former student of Arnold Bank, had come to Portland, and he suggested that we bring Bank to Portland for a series of lectures.  This was better than my going to New York to study—an experience I had wanted ever since I was a high school student.  Bringing a great teacher to Oregon would benefit others interested in letters.

With the combined sponsorship of Reed College, the Portland Art Museum, the Advertising Artists' Guild, and the Portland Club of Printing House Craftsmen, Arnold Bank was brought out for a series of lectures.  They were so very successful that the same group brought him to Portland the following year for a six-week summer session.  Many benefits came from his lecturing and teaching.

We learned much.  Our efforts were approved and encouraged.  An interested group was brought together.  Miss Ruth Halvorsen, Supervisor of Art Education in the Portland Public Schools, participated and she encouraged art teachers to attend.  Bank's demonstration sheets were reproduced and a lettering portfolio was published.  It was sold out almost immediately.  To my great delight I was asked to teach a night class in the Portland Museum Art School.  That and the Reed College summer sessions made it possible for me to work with the interested primary and secondary school teachers.  Remembering my own frustrations, I wanted teachers to be available to help any students who were crazy about letters.

Arnold Bank had introduced me to the work of Alfred Fairbank and I decided to make the promotion of Italic cursive script my main goal—especially after teachers reported that students who mastered the Italic handwriting did better in all of their studies.  Having a script that acted as an aid rather than a hindrance made the schoolwork easier and more satisfying.

By the mid 1950's all the high schools and most of the elementary schools offered Italic as an art project.  In the secondary schools year courses in calligraphy were common.  As the result of thousands of students writing Italic, the community took it for granted as just another way of writing. 

In the spring of 1958 the Portland Art Museum asked me to organize a huge calligraphy exhibition to be opened in the fall.  In May I went east.  Most of the items came from the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Morgan Library in New York, and the Hofer collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard.  The Museum wanted the catalog to be ready at the September opening.  Some of the material was late in coming. I had no opportunity to check the typist's work or the galley proofs; so there were errors.  However, the exhibition and the catalog proved to be more of an innovation than I realized, and "everyman's handicraft" acquired publicity and prestige.

In 1968 the Oregon Educational Television Service asked me to make a series of twenty half-hour programs on Italic calligraphy and handwriting.  In the following seven years, the entire series was broadcast some fourteen times.  In 1976 I was asked to do the series over, this time in color.  Better camera lenses were then available, and small writing could be enlarged on the television screen. 

Charles Lehman has done excellent work promoting Italic and the State Board of Education has officially accepted Italic cursive as an optional system of handwriting to be taught in the state schools.  Some eight elementary schools in the greater Portland area and nearby communities are gradually converting to Italic cursive as the only system.

As a result of our success, many honors have been given me.  In the early 1970's the Governor appointed me Calligrapher Laureate of Oregon and Reed College conferred upon me the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.  I have been a member of the society for Italic Handwriting since its inception.  I was made an American Vice-President.  Paul Standard received the same honor. 

In 1968 I organized a Western American Branch of the Society for Italic handwriting.  We now have almost 950 members.  Many are from New England and the New York area.  Nearly every state is represented.  My articles and calligraphy have been reproduced in England, Sweden and Germany.  I have lectured, taught, and my work has been exhibited clear across the United States.

I have never had to push in promoting Italic calligraphy and cursive handwriting.  Ever since the early 1940's I have had to hurry to keep up with the movement.  It has grown naturally—because of the enthusiasm and hard work of countless ex-students and their students.  Since the early 1960's a profound change in Western culture has appeared.  Many people have become aware of the faults in our commercial, technological culture.  They are tired of being only spectators and consumers.  "We have hands, not paws."  We can make things, not just push buttons.  We might not need electric toothbrushes, electric can openers, pencil sharpeners and shoe polishers.  We can use our hands.  In writing something, we might use a pen and ignore the electric typewriter.  Instead of boredom, joy in the making.

Edward Johnston taught that the most important use of letters is in the making of books.  Many are dong this.  Each year one sees more calligraphic books which have been reproduced by photo'offset.  Lance Hidy of Williamsburg, Massachusetts, has been showing how the IBM electrostatic copying process can be used economically and effectively in producing beautiful booklets in relatively small editions.

Wall quotations are popular.  Jaki Svaren's "Penultima" is a group of accomplished calligraphers whose reproduced pen work is to be found in book stores and craft shops in the western states.  The most important future of calligraphy, as I see it, is in the field of education.  There are seventy-one million students in our public and private elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities.  To do their work they need a serviceable handwriting.  Young students, especially, are too preoccupied with electronic media to do a significant amount of reading and writing.  We find that skill in Italic cursive encourages literacy.

If our complex civilization is to survive it must have literate people.  By promoting Italic cursive in our schools, we can exert a powerful influence on our society.