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From the Collection: Thomas Ingmire, Susan Skarsgard, Suzanne Moore

Among our holdings of contemporary calligraphy are three artists who break boundaries between visual art and the written word.

Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity, 2014.
Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity, handmade book, Vashon Island, WA, 2014, 28 x 38 cm.

We are excited to highlight three contemporary calligraphers from our collection: Thomas Ingmire, Susan Skarsgard, and Suzanne Moore. Each of these calligraphers utilize new techniques, materials, and forms. We are proud to have these and other examples of their work in our collection accompanied by supporting archival work documenting their creative processes.

“Calligraphy was my first love,” says Letterform Archive’s founder and curator, Rob Saunders.  “It was the first craft skill I was obsessed with mastering, and it was the catalyst for a life in books and design. It was also the catalyst for a life of collecting. Some of my earliest finds were examples of calligraphy by Edward Johnston and Rudolf Koch. Along the way we’ve added early manuscripts and leaves, and more 20th-century calligraphy, but it wasn’t until the past five years or so that we added contemporary calligraphers like the three featured here.”

Thomas Ingmire

Saunders met Thomas Ingmire in the Summer of 1974 when they were fellow students in a multi-week residential workshop at UC Santa Cruz with calligrapher Donald Jackson.

Ingmire began his career as a landscape architect but discovered calligraphy in the ’70s and joined master calligrapher and illuminator Donald Jackson’s one-year postdoctoral master program at California State University, Los Angeles. By the ’80s he began to establish himself as a calligrapher, drawing inspiration from poets such as Basho, T.S. Eliot, and William Blake. Looking at his works from that early period, one can began to identify themes that continue through to his contemporary work; especially combining word and image to form new meaning and the possibility of treating words as images themselves.

On a September 2017 visit to Letterform Archive, Jack Hirschman recites “One Day”. His poem is a collaboration with calligrapher Thomas Ingmire for the book of the same name.

In 2002 Ingmire began focusing on artist books that specifically explored the intersecting relationships between poetry, music, and calligraphy. This union can be seen in his work, featured here, One Day. The text is a simple and powerful poem by Jack Hirschman, former Poet Laureate of San Francisco. Visually, Ingmire was inspired by composer Cornelius Cardew’s unusual musical notation. Using Cardew’s visual scores as a reference, Ingmire reimagines Hirschman’s words, infusing them with a musical quality. The work resembles sheet music with the curves of the letters mimicking those of notes. Other strokes appear to dance along the page. Ingmire incorporates gold detailing, watercolor, and variety of different pens and inks to achieve the final result.

In Fall 2018, the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library will feature an exhibition by Ingmire investigating the relationship between poetry, music, and calligraphy. The SFPL’s Richard Harrison Collection is one of the world’s best places to see 20th-century calligraphy and we’re proud to join them in showcasing this work.

Process Materials and Spreads from One Day by Ingmire

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Susan Skarsgard

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Susan Skarsgard is an artist and designer known for her artist books, graphic design, and calligraphy. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. Currently she is the manager of the General Motors Design Archive helping to preserve and document the history of design at GM.

In 2009, she released 26 of 26: Twenty-six Alphabets, a collection of twenty-six plates each with a different interpretation of the alphabet. Skarsgard manipulates the familiar form of the alphabet and, in many cases, makes them almost unrecognizable, stripping them of their original meaning and giving them a new one. Some pieces are calligraphic, others are hand lettered, and still others are created using woodcuts. No two are alike, and in addition to playing with form and shapes she uses variation in color, weight, size to create emphasis and contrast.

“The familiar shapes of the alphabet, taken down to their elemental form and stripped of their meaning, have always been intriguing to me. Kind of like arranging the DNA of language and looking at it purely as shape and form.” — Susan Skarsgard

26 of 26 is a visual feast for reinterpreting letterforms. Using myriad tools, woodcuts, and printing techniques such as the letterpress and etching allowed her to achieve the stunning final results.

Highlights from 26 of 26: Twenty-six Alphabets by Skarsgard

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Suzanne Moore

Suzanne Moore is a lettering artist and designer, bookmaker, and calligrapher. She earned her BFA in printmaking and drawing in 1973 and her calligraphic manuscripts combine painting, printmaking and drawing techniques. Moore was an apprentice of Ingmire’s and they worked together on The Saint John’s Bible.

“Letters and letterforms as the subject of drawing, painting, printmaking and lettering are the focus of my work. The physical, sensual, and architectural aspects of books and the musical – rhythmic, sequential, unfolding narratives of book works – are a multi-dimensional parallel to the way letterforms move on the page. I see books as interactive places: portable spaces created to engage and offer readers new perspectives.” – Suzanne Moore

In Zero: Cypher of Infinity, Moore investigates the nature of the void through the lens of science, philosophy, and symbology. Zero includes use of a wide variety of methods and media, including original painting, drawing, silkscreen, wood and metal type, and polymer plate letterpress printing, embossing, gold foil and 23k gold leaf. It was created with the assistance of Jessica Spring of Springtide Press. In her process book for Zero, Moore takes us through every iteration behind the orange spread, explaining her choices behind the bold and copious use of color, text style and placement, variety of zero forms, and hand lettering versus type for the body text.

Highlights from Zero: Cypher of Infinity by Moore

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The Archive is proud to hold multiple works by Ingmire, Moore, and Skarsgard. All three artists share a penchant for dismantling the boundaries between visual art and language, encouraging the viewer to question the limits of calligraphy. It is this willingness to experiment and redefine the relationship between writing and image – writing as image itself – that makes them some of the most innovative calligraphers of our time.

Joyce Yin, Editorial Intern