After 40 years, Calgary guild celebrates ancient calligraphy art while sharpening new skills

What started as a leisure learning course through the City of Calgary has become a 150-member guild of passionate calligraphers, now celebrating its 40 year anniversary.

Calligraphy Guild members keep moving forward with modern-day interpretations of lettering

Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild celebrates 40 years

1 year ago
Duration 1:07
What started as a leisure learning course through the City of Calgary has become a 150-member guild of passionate calligraphers, now celebrating its 40-year anniversary.

After many years of practising calligraphy, Alma Taylor finds comfort in the ancient art form.

Part of the appeal, she says, is that she finds it soothing to continuously work on her skills.

"It got me through the winter, for sure," she said, adding that for many, 2020 was a year of trying to get more in touch, more hands-on, as people took up things like macrame, knitting and calligraphy.

The Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild, which started as a casual learning course through the City of Calgary, has become a 150-member guild of passionate calligraphers. This year, they just happen to be celebrating 40 years.

  • WATCH | See some of their excellent penmanship skills in the video above

"I think people are able to see it for more than just lettering on paper or envelope work for weddings and they see it as an art now," said Valerie Louis, a three-year member of the Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild.

Louis said she has etched letters onto everything from glass for liquor stores to corporate bags for private companies. She recently added lettering to the promotional bags for the Sephora opening at Cross Iron Mills.

For Louis, it's a lot more than a hobby group. 

Valerie Louis shows off some of her work. The calligrapher recently added lettering to the promotional bags for the Sephora opening at Cross Iron Mills. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

 The guild has grown into a thriving artistic group, and members are often commissioned to lend their hand to different projects. To that end, the guild has recently added the term "Calgary lettering artists" to its name.

"Calligraphy gives the impression of old English calligraphy on something or other, and graphic art and lettering art has come a long way," said Gail Stevens, a founding member of the guild.

The guild recently held a rare, in-person meeting to celebrate the art of lettering.

Members say the guild is always open to welcoming new participants. 

"We take everybody, and interest is the only thing that's required," Stevens said. "But if you come, you're going to rub elbows with people who have been doing it for years, and other people who are just getting started too."

Gail Stevens is a founding member of the Bow Valley Calligraphy guild, which is celebrating 40 years of the art form. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Stevens said every two months, the guild holds a "galleria" meeting to showcase the work of members, based on a theme.

"The stuff that we show, it's amazing the differences that come about as a result of all the different responses," Stevens said. 

Stevens said calligraphy is so much more than Old English script, and that very few people understand that it's about using the background and the writing, to create a piece of art — not just writing out an invitation, putting a name on a certificate, or doing cards.

Stevens said the guild is open to projects, and anyone can phone up and get a calligrapher to put a name on pretty much anything.

Calligraphy tools on display at the Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild in Calgary. The guild has 150 members, who are often tapped for creative projects around the city. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"We have written on some very interesting objects over the years," she said, citing Stampede memorabilia, Olympic medallist's certificates in the '80s, in family bibles and on the bottoms of family photos. 

"We've been asked to add names to church recognitions, we've been asked to write on walls and we've been asked to write on mirrors — for weddings, for example."

Stevens said calligraphy is growing in popularity these days because of the internet. 

"The most popular look at the moment is the one that's most often on invitations and such, the very fancy writing … and people want to be able to do it themselves," she said. "And so you can take lessons online, but you can also take lessons from us far more easily."

The work of guild members — which Stevens said is as unique as a person's handwriting — will be showcased at the Calgary Central Library in June, to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

For more information, visit the Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild's website.

With files from Terri Trembath


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