Calligraphy Guild celebrates 30 years

Joan Wedgwood and fellow members of the East Cape Calligraphy Guild gather to practise their art and plan the guild’s 30th anniversary
Joan Wedgwood and fellow members of the East Cape Calligraphy Guild gather to practise their art and plan the guild’s 30th anniversary
Image: Eugene Coetzee

The East Cape Calligraphy Guild is marking 30 creative and satisfying years, its dedicated members brought together by their abiding appreciation of the design and execution of exquisite lettering.

This highly expressive and evocative art form goes back to the earliest origins of the written word and continues to be practiced today, whether by brush or pen.

“The East Cape Calligraphy Guild was founded in 1989 by six enthusiastic calligraphy students,” current chair Sue Patten said.
“Debbie Derry, Lorreen Grey, Joan Gay, Eric and Genny Walthew and Mary Yates all met while having calligraphy lessons with Edgar Nicholson, a lecturer at the then Port Elizabeth Technikon (now Nelson Mandela University).”

The group soon attracted like-minded creatives and had to move their meetings from private homes to a larger, more permanent venue.

Patten said they found space to rent at St John’s Church in Walmer where, over the years, membership of the guild fluctuated from 25 to eight, and back up to 15 which is their present status.

“Members come from all walks of life: professionals, grannies, housewives, artists, potters,” Patten said.

“Each was looking for a new hobby, a form of relaxation or another skill to complement their existing art or craft.”

The guild now meets at the Mill Park Bowling Club on the third Saturday of every month and visitors are always welcome. Lessons are also available by arrangement.

“Most members have always had a yearning to do calligraphy from an early age, but have only really found the time later in life.”

Calligraphy can be learnt by anyone at any age and a good handwriting is not even a prerequisite, though the art form does require practice, discipline and patience.

“Everyone always says, ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I couldn’t do that’. But the more you learn and practice the better you get, and suddenly you find you are putting your own little twirl on things, and so creativity develops.” Calligraphy is far from a dying art, with enormous interest worldwide in this creative and deeply satisfying pursuit.

“Donald Jackson and his team of calligraphers at the scriptorium at Monmouth, Wales, were commissioned by St John’s University in Minnesota in the US to make a completely handwritten and illuminated Bible,” Patten said.

“It was officially commissioned in 1998, and completed in 2011, and is an exquisite piece of collaborative work (see it at”

“At their meetings the guild either has a talk, demonstration or workshop on various aspects relating to calligraphy.

“It may be an introduction to a new hand or a variation of one already known; a talk on some ancient scribe or a demonstration on bookbinding or background finishes,” Patten said.

Calligraphers are often asked to write cards or certificates, though many companies are now using computers for this.

“Citations are few and far between these days, but are so exciting and rewarding to do.

“Wedding invitations and thank you letters are popular, as well as writing out that special prayer, song or poem.”

The original members have all since retired from or left the guild, leaving Patten and Roma Carey-Smith as the longest-serving remaining members at 20 years each.

“All members contribute to the running of the guild, its meetings and workshops, and each brings something special to the group.” The guild has had many exhibitions, and produced numerous calendars and historic books on Port Elizabeth.

It has also hosted workshops with international guests such as David Wood from Australia, Italy’s Massimo Polello and Carl Rohrs from the US, as well as Cape Town beach calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe and Heleen de Haas from Die LetterHuis.

“To celebrate our 30th anniversary, world-renowned calligrapher Gemma Black from Tasmania is coming to give a workshop in Port Elizabeth in August,” Patten said. “It is based on the Cnut Charter from the era of King Cnut and promises to be exciting.”

Anyone who would like to attend the two-day workshop may contact Erin Gieseke on 073-054-0347. A basic knowledge of calligraphy or typography is necessary.