Commons Knowledge: ARTS 205 writing its way beyond the classroom

Geneseo's 25th annual calligraphy show, which highlights a variety of artists from all class years and majors, is on display in the Bridge Gallery of Brodie Hall.

Professor Carl Shanahan, who has been practicing calligraphy since his sign-making high school days, teaches the course that produces this exciting exhibit.

In the display, it is apparent that calligraphy is a great deal more than just words on a page. The show exhibits a wide range of typefaces, sizes, colors and media. From decorative letters and borders, to entire scenes that encompass the words, students are given more and more creative freedom as the semester continues. The results are stunning.

Shanahan teaches four typefaces: Roman, Bookhand, Chancery Cursive and Celtic. He starts with Roman, which, according to him, is the most difficult and requires a precise pen angle for every stroke. This gets the students started; once they develop and build upon the skill, the possibilities are endless, Shanahan explained.

The gallery is filled with quotes of patriotism and love, song lyrics and fairy tales. Shanahan said that for the Roman alphabet, he asked students to find a more serious quote, but allowed them to choose whatever inspires them for the remainder of the semester.

Freshman Aleah Marcaitis chose lyrics from Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry Starry Night)" and appropriately recreated the painting in the background. In a completely different style, sophomore Caitlin Sullivan uses a striking combination of ink and watercolor to bring a koi fish to the foreground as the main focus, allowing the words to become part of the water in the background.

The calligraphy classes themselves take place in Newton Hall with individual critiques in Brodie Hall. Students practice, are given tests and create a "plate" for each of the four alphabets. They are also given the opportunity to redo their plates for a new grade - "that way if someone wants to do well and take the time to practice they can," Shanahan said.

"The exciting thing about calligraphy is that there are so many uses for it," Shanahan said. "It's a skill you can use for the rest of your life." Many students make things for friends and parents, and some have even gone on to make their own wedding invitations.

Discipline and practice are incredibly important for all forms of art, especially one as fixed and particular as calligraphy. Shanahan likes to tell his students, in the words of choreographer and author Twyla Tharp: "You've heard the phrase, 'Practice makes perfect?' Not true. Perfect practice makes perfect. The one thing that creative souls around the world have in common is that they all have to practice to maintain their skills."

The exhibit is open until March 1. The Bridge Gallery opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends and closes at midnight.