American Handwriting Memorialized
by First Public Monument

An Interview with Michael Sull by Ann Cobb

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Platt Rogers SpencerThe first public monument in America dedicated to our heritage of handwriting will soon be a reality. It is difficult to understand why a monument has never been created, but we are excited for this opportunity to permanently recognize our penmanship history for posterity. The idea for the Spencer Monument Project is the vision of IAMPETH member Michael Sull who, along with Master Penman Harvest Crittenden, recently conducted the historic 25th anniversary of the Spencerian Saga. I had the privilege of attending the Saga last October when Michael shared his thoughts on the project with his students, and I asked him to write down his thoughts for our Journal:

"While thinking about the influence that the Spencerian Saga has had for a quarter century of promoting Platt Rogers Spencer and our country's Golden Age of Penmanship, I began to realize that the Saga itself is now a chapter in America's penmanship heritage. It seemed to me that there should be some means to commemorate the Saga program and our penmanship history.

Spencerian SagaDespite the importance of Platt Rogers Spencer's work as well as that of all the legendary penmen who followed him, no monument or memorial has ever been created to recognize their invaluable contributions to our country. American penmanship played a tremendous role in the education of our citizens during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The skill and teaching of handwriting had a vast influence in the progressive increase of literacy throughout our population, and business writing became the mainstream vehicle for all commercial correspondence. In addition, Spencerian Script touched nearly everyone at that time with the social expression of correspondence, allowing families and friends to stay in touch with one another. And yet, in the 148 years since the death of Spencer, no one has created a public recognition of any kind to show that our magnificent penmen ever existed at all, let alone what they accomplished. This lack of initiative and effort is a sad testimonial to all penmen who came before us.

Today, in this 21st century, we can do something to correct this oversight, and each of us can take pride in making this project succeed. Here and now - this is our moment in history, and rest assured that there will be penmen who follow us. There is a line from a song that says: '. . . we all become forefathers, bye and bye . . . .' So it goes. It is both our privilege and responsibility to record the story of American penmanship so that future generations can know and love this art - and its history - as we do. The Spencerian Monument to American Handwriting will be our gift to the preservation of our native penmanship and the lives of our colleagues, past and present. We owe our predecessors more than respect; and we owe them our commitment that their efforts will be remembered and never lost again.

Origin of Spencerian Penmanship

Evolved 'mid nature's unpruned scenes,
On Erie's wild and woody shore,
The rolling wave, the dancing stream,
The wild-rose haunts in days of yore.

The opal, quartz and ammonite,
Gleaming beneath the wavelet's flow,
Each gave its lesson - how to write -
In the loved years of long ago.

I seized the forms I loved so well -
Compounded them as meaning signs,
And to the music of the swell
Blent them with undulating vines.

Thanks, Nature, for the impress pure,
Those tracings in the sand are gone;
But while love shall for thee endure,
Their grace and ease will still live on.

-Platt Rogers Spencer

The monument will consist of five large bronze tablets mounted on a four-sided limestone obelisk approximately four feet wide at its base, and tapering to a height of nine feet. Near the top of the obelisk a flourished design of a bird perched on a quill will be engraved into the stone.

The two largest plaques will be the focal point of the monument. One plaque will be devoted to Platt Rogers Spencer as the Father of American handwriting, with text about his life and achievements. The other plaque commemorates the Spencerian Saga with text about its founding, program, and influence in promoting Spencer's legacy for 25 years. The three smaller plaques contain Spencer's poem 'The Origin of Spencerian Penmanship,' the dedication plaque featuring the date and names of the monument committee members, and the patrons' plaque listing the names of donors who contributed $500 or more to the project.

The Spencer Monument project is spearheaded by the Spencerian Saga and its many students. The monument committee consists of Dawn Darner (Woodbury, MN), Bill Theobald (Anchorage, AK), Michael Grady (Atlanta, GA), Harvest Crittenden (Howell, MI), and Michael Sull (Gardner, KS). Everyone - whether they have attended a Saga or not - is welcome and encouraged to participate in this historic event by making a contribution. Donations by check or money order (payable to the Spencer Monument Project) should be mailed to Spencer Monument Project, Post Office Box 65, Cottage Grove, Minnesota 55016. Everyone who makes a contribution will receive a flourished certificate designed by Michael Sull with your name written in beautiful ornamental penmanship. For donations of $100 or more, contributors will receive a commemorative oblique penholder crafted by IAMPETH members Michael Grady and Michael Sull engraved with the words 'Spencerian Monument for American Handwriting " Geneva, Ohio " August 23, 2012.' Individuals or organizations donating $500 or more will have their name inscribed on the bronze Patrons' Plaque in addition to receiving the certificate and commemorative penholder. Our goal for the project is $8,000.

The site location for the monument is historic in itself. It is the original library building for the City of Geneva, Ohio - especially noteworthy because Spencer founded the city's first library in the 1830's. Platt Rogers Spencer lived in Geneva from age 10 until his death in 1864. The library building was dedicated on Flag Day, 1910, with one room featuring a framed portrait of Spencer. In the 1980's a number of penmanship specimens were discovered in the basement. It was there that, in 1984, Michael Sull made his first trip to Geneva to conduct research for his book Spencerian Script & Ornamental Penmanship, and identified many of the penmen who wrote those specimens long ago. For 20 years participants of the Saga visited the library to study their Spencerian collection.

By the late 1990's the Geneva Library was in a state of disrepair. A new library building was constructed several miles away, and the portrait was transferred to this new facility. Last year, efforts began to restore the original building in preparation for its new role as the county courthouse. Today the restoration is essentially complete. To honor Platt Rogers Spencer, the monument will be placed on the patio walkway at the foot of the entrance staircase in the front of the building. It is considered the most historic location in Geneva.

The official dedication of the Spencerian Monument and the re-dedication of the old library building will take place on Friday, August 24, 2012. As a part of the ceremony, Michael Sull and Harvest Crittenden will be presenting a portrait of Spencer to the newly renovated courthouse building on behalf of the Spencerian Saga. All contributors and IAMPETH members are invited to attend this historic event. For further information, please contact Dawn Darner (dawn@letteredinink.com), Harvest Crittenden (Harvest@acornarts.org), or Michael Sull (Michael@spencerian.com).

The progress of our fund-raising efforts will be reported on IAMPETH's website and in the next issue of the Penman's Journal.

This is, indeed, a rare opportunity to take part in a project of national significance that has never before been recognized. We are the first penmen to accomplish this endeavor and, through our efforts, America's Golden Age of Penmanship will always have a stone beacon to remind everyone of our handwriting heritage today, tomorrow, and for all future generations who will follow in our footsteps."

Each of us shares a common bond in appreciating the remarkable skill of the past masters and their work. As an association, we have met annually for more than 60 years to celebrate and learn their techniques. And sometimes it seems that we actually come close to knowing these men and women personally as we study their magnificent specimens in IAMPETH's archive collection. We speak their names with reverence, and can only imagine what it would have been like to study under their guidance.

Now, however, we can do a great service for them. This monument is an unprecedented occasion to honor their memory forever in a manner that no one has ever done before now. Everyone is encouraged to participate in this meaningful project, for with its success and physical presence in Geneva, our legacy of penmanship will endure beyond our own lifetimes and forever.

On August 24, a permanent monument of P.R Spencer was dedicated in front of the Western County Courthouse in Geneva N.Y. Read More

A video of the dedication for the P.R. Spencer monument