Capital Letters Day 2022

After a long and sometimes impatient wait, the CAPITAL LETTERS event for members and friends took place on a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day in London on 14 May. Goodenough College, the venue, looked splendid in the sunshine and the quadrangle was much-used by members catching up with each other after the COVID-induced hiatus in our social events. Members were welcomed at the registration desk with a goody bag – a small marker of the SSI’s Centenary Year, celebrations of which, of course, were by-passed in 2021 due to COVID restrictions. But this year’s CAPITAL LETTERS made up for that, with much to see and hear, and the opportunity to be together again after such a long break in normal interactions. Around 140 people came together and made the most of it.

This year saw Calderdale Calligraphers to the fore as the exhibiting regional group, with a splendid interpretation of the northern weather: the pieces were between them striking, funny, surprising, challenging and all lovely to contemplate. Also exhibiting were people from the Study Days and Advanced Training Scheme courses over the past two years, this being the first chance these students have had to show their work since the pandemic hit. This all made for lots to see – but we are only a third of the way round the first room at Goodenough College (the Great Hall) so far…

Present this year after quite a long absence from this event was the Fellows Sales’ table. Cherrell Avery, Mary Noble, Jan Pickett and Sylvie Gokulsing provided us with an array of gorgeous work. This selection of Fellows’ work certainly served as inspiration for Lay Members but, since all of these Fellows sold some pieces, it clearly also tempted a number of people to open their wallets. Win, win, win.

Helena Bryant laid on a super spread on the SSI Sales table and has subsequently reported that brisk business took place with particular interest in quills and vellum, neither of which are easily sourced from commercial outlets. It is a boon to be able to pick up a bundle of new quills, a sheet of perfectly-prepared vellum or some small vellum offcuts straight from Helena’s table.

David Bywater reported for duty once again this year to give demonstrations of how to use a computer wisely to enhance our calligraphy. David has done this so loyally year after year, quietly and efficiently getting on with this important task: we want to give a special acknowledgment of his dutiful and longstanding dedication to this members’ event. Many members attend his workshops to learn and be helped to feel more confident about using various pieces of software in calligraphic work. It is so valuable to have him there to do this.

Last but not least in the Great Hall, the Lay Members’ Exhibition stretched all along one of the long walls. On display were not only the entries from this year’s exhibition but also many from 2021 when the only way of displaying them had been online. It was cheering to see so many entries with their varied interpretations of the set topics alongside a splendid array of pieces submitted under the ‘open choice’ banner. Members were given a voting form as they arrived and invited to vote for their favourite pieces in the different topic categories and also for individual calligraphers in the four experience levels. Winners were: Meg Chapman, Christina Freeman, Susan Liu, Ruth Sutherland, Alma Swan, Sherri Trial, Lesley Williams and Erica Wilson. The winners received a certificate and a pack of postcards from the Words Made Beautiful Centenary Exhibition. Alongside each entry is a kind and helpful commentary by Tony Curtis FSSI, who studied each one and offered some words of encouragement and guidance to the creators. This is not an easy or quick task and Tony carried it out with great care and consideration, despite being in the middle of a house move across the country!

Meanwhile, over in the Large Common Room, another set of treasures were waiting. Here, one could indulge an interest in fine Copperplate writing with the Copperplate Special Interest Group; marvel at the work of students at Reigate School of Art (now part of East Surrey College where they are taught by Gerald Mynott FSSI); engage with and learn from this year’s demonstrators Julia Baxter (modern  and medieval Gothic), Helen White (illumination) and Judith Porch (cadels) as they gave live demonstrations of their stunning skills. Celia Almeida was kept busy running a huge Bring & Buy table which benefitted, as well as from many small donations, from two recent donations of calligraphy book collections that had belonged to members sadly deceased.

The afternoon’s programme began with the awarding of certificates to successful ATS graduates by Sylvie Gokulsing FSSI, the presentation of certificates to Lay Members’ Exhibition winners by Sharon Shaw FSSI (Chair), and the prize draw for the raffle.

Once all that excitement was over we settled down to the Daubney Lecture to hear Dr Stella Panayotova give us a superb tour through some of the most interesting items in the Royal Collection. Stella is Royal Librarian and Assistant Keeper of the Royal Archives and in this role oversees the priceless collection at Windsor Castle. She showed images of many pieces ranging from a trade contract with China written in beautiful Chinese calligraphy, to an astounding Arabic document where all the letters had been hand-cut, and a document with Queen Elizabeth I’s signature from when she was a teenager.

It was very surprising to learn the extent of the collection and about the (sometimes astounding) provenance of various pieces. Stella is expecting new items to curate as this year’s Platinum Jubilee tributes to Her Majesty arrive. She assured us that anyone can request to see items in the collection by writing to her and telling her what they would specifically like to view. A treat for next year, perhaps.

And that was it. Sharon Shaw closed the event, including a few words about next year’s event as she did so. The day, so long anticipated (and planned three times!), was over. From the feedback we feel it went well and that people had a good day, which was our aim.

We now step down as organisers and hand over to a new team, currently being recruited. If you would like to be involved in any way, please contact Sharon. The day doesn’t just happen and planning starts now for next year. Any assistance, small and low-key or more extensive, will ensure the enjoyment is repeated in 2023. It is fun and a great experience to be part of it and an excellent way to ‘give a bit back’ to the Society. It’s a very worthwhile contribution to calligraphy so please put your hand up to do a little bit, even if you feel a bit nervous of doing so: a new team soon bonds and you’ll have some fun and make some happy connections by being involved.

Our last words are to say thanks from us to you all for being so supportive, for coming along on the day and showing encouragement to our lovely exhibitors and demonstrators and for generally helping to create the great ambience that we all experienced. We look forward to seeing you next year – same place, Saturday 17 June – but with our ‘visitor’ hats on this time.

Steve Eades and Alma Swan
Retiring Organisers, CAPITAL LETTERS DAY