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Line by line, letter by letter

August 18, 2012
By MaryAnn Kromer - Staff Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

Computers have made it easier to create custom greeting cards with fancy lettering, but a local woman prefers to make them by hand, using calligraphy.

A native of Fort Jennings, Sister Carol Pothast became a novice at St. Francis Convent in 1961. Now retired from teaching, she has returned to the convent.

Over the years, she has become proficient in the art of calligraphy. It was a talent that began in childhood and developed in adulthood as an outgrowth of teaching. She never considered herself artistic, but she was able to progress with study and practice.

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A steady hand, special markers and pens, a blotter and a straight edge are needed for the art of calligraphy.

"I looked at my report cards just recently ... checking on my art grades. When I was a child, I had Bs and Cs in art - nothing spectacular," Pothast said. "I developed it more because of opportunities that came along in life. I appreciated those."

In elementary school, she remembers learning the Zaner Bloser style of printing. When she and her classmates started cursive writing, the teacher would invite students to submit samples of their best writing for a classroom competition.

"I tried, and I thought I did a nice job of writing, but I never remember getting first (place) at all. But it never discouraged me, because I felt like I still had nice writing," she said. "Then when I went into teaching, I was placed in teaching first and second grade, and I had to print on the blackboard. So I was very meticulous and tried to be as neat as I could be."

Her training also includes some required art courses to learn the basic principles of art. The classes covered some techniques to use with school children and to create bulletin boards and charts for her classroom. At one assignment in Willard, the pastor of the parish asked Pothast to cut out letters for Scripture passages for various liturgical seasons.

"I would do the lettering and I would take those letters and tape them on the wall. ... That was sort of the beginning and the idea that I could make good use of lettering," Pothast said. "I made a lot of displays in school situations."

While she was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Toledo, Pothast added her calligraphy to the weekly school newsletter that went to parents. A parishioner there gave her a calligraphy kit with calligraphy pens that had three interchangeable nibs of various sizes that attach to a handle. The kit's "Speedball Textbook" became her main source of calligraphy knowledge. She still refers to the manual.

"Chancery Cursive is the style that I started with. That's got a slant, and I love that flourishing stuff. Well, I calmed that down a little bit ... I kind of have my own style, and I don't like it on a slant, so I put it upright," Pothast said.

Her favorite style is Old English, but she says she has not mastered it. She often adds her own flair to a standard font. Although Pothast can re-use pens, she cannot always find the kind of permanent ink she prefers. Water-based ink also is available, but it is not as vibrant as the permanent ink. Craft supply stores now carry newer felt-tipped pens with points shaped specifically for calligraphy. They also are less messy than traditional calligraphy pens.

"You have to be real careful with ink blotting, ... it's kind of crucial, because once you make a mistake, then you have to start all over from scratch," Pothast said.

During her teaching career, Pothast said she was "constantly using" lettering skills to print certificates. For more than 20 years, she printed graduation lists and diplomas for eighth-grade graduates. She also has addressed wedding invitation envelopes. If ready-made letter stencils are not available, she can make her own patterns on newspaper in whatever size is needed.

"I really got started when that person gave me that kit. That principal was very encouraging and complimentary. She appreciated it, and it gave me energy to do the next project, too," Pothast said.

After she had gained some experience with calligraphy, she took a two-week workshop in Pennsylvania. The classes taught Pothast a few new techniques, but mostly, they reinforced what she already had taught herself.

Her experience has made it unnecessary to measure for the correct spacing. Her eye can tell the amount of space needed and the lettering size and style that will fit each project.

She does use a ruler as a guide to keep the lines straight. Some letters take less space than others.

"I found out, too, there are certain letters that are more fun to make. I can be more creative," Pothast said.

When she returned to the convent for retirement, Pothast had no job initially, so she made some greeting cards to be sold in SpiritSpace and at Headliners hair salon on Madison Street. The convent had a supply of paper she could use, and she purchased packages of envelopes.

To enhance the printed messages, Pothast added simple drawings with pastels, pen and ink and colored markers. She always is looking for ideas that she can adapt for her use. She makes a few seasonal cards but her main focus is "thinking of you" and "thank you" cards that can be used all year. They sell for $1 each.

Pothast now has several jobs at St. Francis Home and in the finance office at the convent. During busy seasons, she helps out at Rodgers Flowers. She likes adding her own flourishes to a variety of daily tasks, just as she does to her lettering.



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