Ewan Clayton’s Entering the Curve

Clayton's "Entering the Curve" workshop was held in the Peter Cooper Suite, as known as the Clock tower.
Clayton’s “Entering the Curve” workshop was held in the Peter Cooper Suite, also known as the Clock tower.

In early June, I attended the 3-day weekend workshop Entering the curve: an introduction to five hundred years of cursive writing 1150-1650 at Cooper Union’s Type@Cooper in New York City.  Ewan Clayton, a professor of design at the University of Sunderland, UK and co-director of the International Research Centre for Calligraphy, instructed the workshop, whose attendees were a mix of seasoned and novice calligraphers with diverse academic and occupational backgrounds. Most of the calligraphy classes and workshops I’ve taken over the years have focused on technique rather than the history of calligraphy; therefore, this seminar’s historical perspective was of real interest to me.

Clayton is a great storyteller, who fascinated the class by making history come alive with his engaging stories, many of which will likely be in his soon-to-be released book, The Golden Thread: A History of Writing. One interesting thread Clayton discussed regarding calligraphic hands throughout the centuries was the ‘re-purposing’ of fast hand versions of formal hands, which were then formalized into newer and slower variations. For instance, Roman minuscules were developed from a fast hand version of Roman capitals and later formalized into carolingian. Clayton illustrated the transformation of the Roman capital ‘H’ into the lowercase ‘h’ by lettering it quickly, where each stage revealed how the upper right corner of the letter diminished.

One of the highlights of the workshop was Clayton’s demonstration and instruction on quill cutting. The quills we used were shed naturally and each student had an opportunity to cut their own quill and later practice writing cursive hands with it. The Cutting Quills segment was recorded and edited by fellow Type@Cooper faculty member Hannes Famira and can now be viewed online.

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The workshop was well balanced with plenty of time for us to practice many types of cursive hands and also discuss their historical applications. I especially enjoyed lettering Humanistic exemplars, which is a hand that has strongly influenced modern-day type design. According to Type@Cooper‘s program director and faculty member Cara Di Edwardo, who visited during the workshop, “The humanistic hand of the 15th century is the most important model for lowercase letters. Those printers who set up shop in Italy in the 15th century and the French printers of the early 16th century modeled the first Roman typefaces from the contemporary book hand, humanistic. These early designs have been revived many times in the 20th century and are prized by fine printers. In the pedagogy of typeface design, the humanistic hand is fundamental to understanding the anatomy, weight distribution, and proportion of text faces.”

Page from the Book of Hours of Giovanni II Bentivoglio, Bologna, c. 1497-1500, humanist minuscule with decorations.

Clayton’s Entering the curve workshop gave me a better understanding of the origins and development of many cursive hands. It was certainly worth the journey down to NYC from New Hampshire and I look forward to learning more about the history of writing in his upcoming book.

Ewan Clayton’s The Golden Thread: A History of Writing, published by Atlantic Books, will be available in the UK on September 5, 2013 and February 11, 2014 in the USA.

The Golden Thread

Following is the publisher’s synopsis of the publication.

The Golden Thread is an enthralling and accessible history of the cultural miracle that is the written word. It is an invention that has been used to share ideas in every field of human endeavour, and a motor of cultural, scientific and political progress.

From the simple representative shapes used to record transactions of goods and animals in ancient Egypt, to the sophisticated typographical resources available to the twenty-first-century computer user, the story of writing is the story of human civilization itself. Ewan Clayton marks each step in the historical development of writing, and explores the social and cultural impact of every stage: the invention of the alphabet; the replacement of the papyrus scroll with the codex in the late Roman period; the perfecting of printing using moveable type in the fifteenth century and the ensuing spread of literacy; the industrialization of printing during the Industrial Revolution; the impact of artistic Modernism on the written word in the early twentieth century – and of the digital switchover at the century’s close.

The Golden Thread raises issues of urgent interest for a society living in an era of unprecedented change to the tools and technologies of written communication. Chief amongst these is the fundamental question: ‘What does it mean to be literate in the world of the early twenty-first century?’ The Golden Thread belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who is inquisitive not just about the centrality of writing in the history of humanity, but also about its future.


In February 2013 I had the pleasure of being part of Takt Kunstprojektraum artist-in-residence (AIR) program in Berlin. The winter residency group consisted of 10 international artists including myself. The AIR participants engaged in a wide range of media and research, which included sculpture, bricolage, photography, painting, video and anthropological studio visits. We lived and worked in studios in the Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg East side neighborhoods. Our group exhibition, Colligere, was held at Kunstraum Tapir and was curated by Paola Bonino. Bonino incorporated many of the diverse styles of the resident’s work into a collective exhibition that both united and also honored individual forms of expression. A few of the artists also held additional exhibitions and readings in other Berlin spaces during their residency. The residents also received weekly critiques from Isabel Manalo, who is represented by Addison/Ripley and is also the director and founder of The Studio Visit. The program directors, Antje Görner and Bernhard Haas, were very resourceful and kind. They provided opportunities for residents to meet with others in the Berlin contemporary art community and organized social and educational events for us to attend. Antje and Bernhard were also very helpful with mundane requests (like needing a hammer for my grommets or finding Oblaten for my 90 year neighbor back home).

Laura Di Piazza_02

This silver lining needs refining (in collaboration with Hugh Rennison) * Berlin * 2013 * Handwritten quotation, gouache, wire, card * 59,4 cm x 42 cm

quote: “The only joy in the world is to begin. It is beautiful to live because living is to begin again in every moment.” – Cesare Pavese

Laura Di Piazza_01

Bewusstsein * White River Junction, Vermont, USA * 2013 * Vinyl, paper, ink, wood and metal * 147,32 cm x 59,69 cm

exhibition copy by Paola Bonino:

Bewusstsein consists of discarded handwritten notes collected by the artist for about three years. They are primarily to-do lists from places she has been to recently. As a calligrapher, Di Piazza is concerned about the practice of penmanship, which is fading in our modern digitized world. However, these thrown-out notes indicate that people are still writing, even for seemly unimportant things. After collecting them, Di Piazza bound these lost pieces together with thread. In the resulting work, the artist combines two different elements – the concept of Bewusstsein (awareness) and discarded to-do lists – in order to highlight their contrast in terms of our mental-state of time. It is hard, in fact, to be in a state of awareness during our daily lives, when we are preoccupied with thoughts of the before and worries of the thereafter. The to-do lists, often created for remembering the most mundane chores, are focused on accomplishing tasks in the near future. Perhaps they are chores we want to forget but become a nuisance when we do. Do we create these to-do lists because we hope we will later be in such a state of Bewusstsein (awareness in the present) that will we likely forget the things we must do? The piece was also created using a vinyl garment bag whose function is to be ‘suspended’, thereby serving its primary purpose of protecting a garment. The garment bag was chosen to emphasize that time is suspended too when we are in the present state of Bewusstsein.

Calligraphy by Laura Di PiazzaPhotograph by Jakob OttCalligraphy by
Laura Di Piazza
Photograph by
Jakob Ott

Gardarev Residency

The following work was created at The Gardarev Center‘s artist-in-residence program held at The Meeting Point in Boston, Massachusetts in December 2012. The three sculptures are in honor of victims of intimate partner violence. Many thanks to Toni Lester and Dr. AndreA Macsis for their guidance and support.

Going Where?, 2012, metal and wood, 15" x 11" x 12"
Going Where?, 2012, metal and wood, 15″ x 11″ x 12″
Not Here Now, 2012, metal, transparency paper and textiles, 30" x 60" x 22"
Not Here Now, 2012, metal, transparency paper and textiles, 30″ x 60″ x 22″
Contained, 2012, wood, glass, paper and textile, 48" x 20" x 6"
Contained, 2012, wood, glass, paper and textile,
48″ x 20″ x 6″

A Wedding Affair

Thank you WellWed Magazine & Vermont Vows for inviting me to The Wedding Affairs on 11/10/12 as guest calligrapher held at Shelburne Farms.

Adam Blue: AstroExplorer – A Guide to the Heavens

Main Street Museum, White River Junction, Vermont  |  through November 18

Review by Laura Di Piazza

Adam Blue’s current exhibition AstroExplorer – A Guide to the Heavens, at the Main Street Museum, takes us through three distinct spheres.  “Constellations for the New Millennium”, which consists of 84 drawings and text pieces, provides concise and sometimes blunt discourse on current environmental, political and social issues, as well as pop culture. Its range is wide; from the garbage dump epidemic in the Pacific Ocean to easily accessible online porn. Sprinkled within the commentary of our times is what I view as the ‘consolations’ of the constellations in the form of horoscopes. I was born under the sign of the Predator Drone. When things do not go well for the Predator Drone, AstroExplorer’s horoscope wisely advises: “never you mind, you can always take refuge in the Pringles and Mountain Dew that feed your soul”. (WoW, it’s like that was written just for me.)

In this series Blue also juxtaposes contrasting features. For example Goth Fairies is a drawing of a levitating fairy in Dominatrix style attire, with crop in hand, and angelic wings.

Not all is fun and games, there’s also serious commentary on social injustice.  As seen in ‘There’s Margin$ in the Marginalized”.

In this series Blue accurately depicts, in an uncensored manner, the tone of our current and common form of modern-day information consumption: “sound-bites”.

The next series in this exhibition is called “How the White Cube Hangs Once the Gallery Has Closed”, which is a photographic collection of site-specific journeys of the White Cube.  If the “Constellations for the New Millennium” is like the WiFi in the home then “How the White Cube Hangs Once the Gallery Has Closed” must surely be the balcony. Here, the moment calls for reflection and space. The traveling minimalist White Cube becomes part of the landscape by being a participant within a site, however still it may appear. The White Cube makes observations that we may ourselves ponder, like when in the produce section of the supermarket: “Eating organic whenever you can is important.”

Raking leaves can be totally zen.

The final series is a collection of 12 finely executed gouache drawings that unfold like riddles. This series reminds me of the coziness of bedtime stories and the vast inner-space those words can hurl me into.  In this case Blue’s paintings sends my imagination running and questioning. Will Artificial Intelligence one-day wonder, “Who am I”? Does our internal forces no longer shield itself within powerful symbols but instead hides itself within sugary snacks? Why is that monkey swinging with a cell phone in his hand? Is he too distracted by the ever-shifting monkey-mind that plagues my sleep before important meetings/events the following day? I wonder.

Adam Blue is the Education Director at AVA Gallery and Art Center, a nonprofit community art center in Lebanon, NH and is an art editor of The Whitefish Review, a semi-annual, nonprofit, literary and arts journal.

Internationale Sommerakademie – Salzburg

I spent most of August 2012 in Hallein, Austria in Manfred Pernice‘s O Tannenbaum course at the Internationale Sommerakademie (SOAK). O Tannenbaum and several other SOAK courses were held in the historic and impressive Alte Saline building, which once processed salt that was mined locally. It was an eventful 3 weeks attending exhibition openings, lectures and Mittagsgespräche (lunch talks), meeting people from all corners of the global at the Alte Saline and at the Festung Hohensalzburg (the other SOAK location in Salzburg) and also experimenting with found and re-purposed materials for the course. In some ways we had Christmas in August in Pernice’s O Tannenbaum course. Pernice invited us to consider the Christmas tree, and the adornment of it, and how it’s transformation might inform our own sculptural project.

To get into the holiday spirit teacher’s assistants Noële Ody and Cäcilia Brown asked us to create gifts. Above is a gift I created and it was randomly received in a round of musical chairs, where everyone had a seat when the music stopped.

Before going 3-dimensional, I contemplated certain feelings, sounds and images one might experience during the holiday season by playing with words and their placement or rearrangement.

“Ein guter Gesang wischt den Staub vom herzen” – Christoph Lehmann 1576-1638 ” A good song wipes the dust from the heart”

I was fortunate to locate found objects quickly (wheel and microphone stand) at Hallein’s recycling center, that later became Outside Woman. Below is an image of Outside Woman before it became a part of the collective works on the Intimate Violence project.

Many thanks to Vesko Gösel for creating the red chaotic spiral piece pictured below, which was included in the final installation.

Final IV project exhibited at the Alte Saline, August 2012.

Not Here

Inside Woman – Floor Woman – Inside Woman

Life Like Art

I incorporate everyday life within my art practice. My @ the carwash series includes a dozen photographs, selected from out of over 100, taken at a car wash in rural Vermont between December 2010 and March 2011. Before beginning this project I had a quiet moment in the automated carwash, where I noticed how captivating the constantly changing water patterns were upon my windshield. In the dead of winter, this was also a reminder of how fluid life is and how permanency is just an illusion.

Laura Di Piazza, He’s Different, 2011, digital photograph

At the conclusion of this photographic project, I read Allan Kaprow’s The Eighties, Essays on the Blurring of Art And Life, which I found to be fascinating. Right off the bat Kaprow asks “What if I were to think art was just paying attention?” (Kaprow 201).  Kaprow defines and distinguishes between, art-like art and life-like art as follows: “art-like art” he describes as popular and even mainstream. There is a neat mental box (aka schema) into which people can comfortably put this art and there are proper “external” places in which to house them. These are cultural institutions  (museums, galleries, concert halls, etc…), which subscribe to the art-like arts separateness. That is: “Mind is separate from body, individual is separate from people, civilization is separate from nature, each art is separate from the other” (Kaprow 202). It is exclusive and lives in a caged bubble. Kaprow goes further to say that these institutions also “share the same separating point of view about art and life; that art could vanquish life’s problems as long as it was far enough away from life so as not to be confused by it and sucked back to its mire” (Kaprow 202).  In sharp contrast to art-like art’s exclusiveness and separateness, life-like art is about connecting art to life and acknowledging that the two can be very much a part of each other.  Kaprow describes the traditional artist as a specialist and the lifelike artist a generalist who has an enormous selection of resources or types of canvases to do her/his artwork. Kaprow’s description of where we can find art and who can find it, reaches far past the limitations of the traditional and commercial art world. The resources of one’s art is inexhaustible in life-like art because it is not bound to the materials of a given art store/supplier and it’s relevance is not dependent on the approval of art critics.

I’ve had other unplanned photographic opportunities to capture art in my everyday life. Below are some additional examples.

Laura Di Piazza, Look Ma the Sky on Our Table, 2011, digital photograph

One cold winter morning I had the rare occasion of having lunch at a local Vermont café with just one of my children (usually we travel in packs), my then four-year old daughter Lucy. Lucy presented me with an opportunity to really look with my mind and eyes open. She said “mommy, look the sky on our table” and I replied ‘huh?’. Again she repeated herself. I paused, I recall being confused. How can one have the sky on a table? Then I looked at what her small little finger was pointing to and then I understood. This was a lovely moment, a Seussical moment (coincidentally just 2 doors down from where Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, lived for several years), where art appears in a nonsensical and unexpected manner.

Laura Di Piazza, Shin, 2011, digital photograph

I took a walk on a bitter cold winter’s morning. The clear blue skies and bright sunshine gave this tree’s shadow crisp clear lines. I photographed it as I did several other trees that morning. Later after downloading the images on my computer, I noticed that this particular tree possessed the Hebrew letter shin, which is considered a holy letter in Judaism that stands for Shaddai, a name for God.

Dream Galleries

“Dreams are illustrations…from the book your soul is writing about you”

– Marsha Norman

I have been to some amazing galleries: smalls ones in quaint New England towns and large scale exhibitions in big cities, however my favorite galleries are the ones I visit in my sleep. I never know beforehand what will be on display. I do know upon waking who the artist and curator are.

Laura Di Piazza, Moving Sandwich, 2011, pencil on paper, 20” x 24”

I first saw “Moving Sandwich” in a dream gallery I visited while sleeping. I was walking slowly through this space and stopped before this drawing and thought “I really like this, it makes sense”. When I awoke I wrote down a description of the drawing. A couple of months later, I created this drawing which is very similar to the original one I saw in my dream. By including dream imagery in my art practice, I enjoy incorporating parts of life that are very much present however difficult to remember and acknowledge. I also feel that this practice of including my dream world into my waking (we certainly include our waking life into our dream world), helps me acknowledge where I go, where we all go, for part of our day. As abstract and foreign as dreams may be, they are an activity we all experience. This thread of our greater connection, through dream experiences, I believe deserves our attention.

Laura Di Piazza, Bunny Says, 2011, spray paint, paper and ink on plastic,

23.5” x 27”

In contrast, my work “Bunny Says” was not seen in a dream, that I am aware of: However, because I feel it has many dream-like qualities to it, it belongs in the collection of my dream-inspired works. For example, the canvas itself is actually a garbage bag, which has symbolic value: I wonder, are our dreams part of a mental or mnemonic recycling system, as some sleep scientists have suggested? Do we need to clear out or sort out old information to make room for new information? These questions are the backdrop of the work. The center of this piece is newspaper print that has been spray-painted on. I sometimes find recalling dreams is similar to this spray-painted newsprint, where the information is all there however I cannot access it – or in this case, read it.

Laura Di Piazza, Past Mt. Rim, 2010, ink, tissue paper and newspaper on coverstock board, 18” x 24”

The artwork pictured left, “Past Mt. Rim”, encompasses all of my artistic practices; calligraphy, poetry, dream exploration and visual art making.

I found that my dream recall improved while taking a class at AVA gallery called Art and the Unconscious. What resulted was a collection of fragments of a dream that inspired “Past Mt. Rim”.  The title alone represents the enormous mountainous surface, one side of which, we live upon during one part of our day, the other side of which we stand upon during the night. It is impossible to be on both sides at the same time. However I have found with lucid dreaming that I can reside at the summit, which joins the two briefly. In the deep states of art-making, where awareness of time is absent, I also find that I enter a similar state that welcomes me to stand in this kind of dual space.

My dream treasures gathered during this class also included the following artwork “Scanning Inner Child” (below) which I saw in a dream and brought to (daytime) life later that spring. I find that the overall dream impression is usually determined by the predominate feeling(s) the dream encompass rather than (only) by the actions that were played out therein. The dream that inspired “Scanning Inner Child” contained strong emotions to hunt and gather my abandoned wounds, the unhealed cuts and bruises of my psyche. To go back to my internal forest, however deep the dark felt or primal the noises sounded, to retrieve, acknowledge, mend and sow, as I would flower seeds, my discarded pain.

Laura Di Piazza, Scanning Inner Child, 2010, paper and ink on doll, approx. 5 lbs – 7 oz.

Street Level

Review by Laura Di Piazza

Galen Cheney detours us away from any expected pleasantries and motors us straight to the gritty and raw levels of the streets, be they our internal, external, peaceful and/or chaotic spaces. Cheney’s current exhibit Street Level at BCA in Burlington, Vermont, includes the multi-layered, graffiti style abstract pathways of Street Fair, which can be reminiscent of NYC street art in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Galen Cheney, Street Fair, 2011, mixed media on birch panels

Born in Los Angeles but showing her New England roots through the use of birch panels, Cheney separates and positions these panels in Cross Town and Lariat (lasso type rope) that reveal the disconnections and flow of a city’s accessibility for or from it’s inhabitants. One city and countless ways to move around it or get stuck within it. Cheney inscribes ancient letterforms in urban settings and includes 19th and early 20th century calligraphic lettering, which in some places pop out or hide out among the high-energy spaces of the paintings.

The brilliant colors and labyrinth-style paths, the eyes try to follow, express the vibrancy of a highly alert state. If one is sleeping will they fall off the Dr. Seuss-like striped highways?

In the Calligraffiti paintings there’s interconnectivity among the tubular shapes that do not appear to be constrictive. In them Cheney develops her own curvaceous alphabet.

Galen Cheney, Calligraffiti 1, 2 & 3, 2012, oil on birch panels

Galen Cheney, Periscope, 2012, oil on birch panel

The artist describes her work as having it’s “own energy and direction almost apart from [herself]”. When viewing the external scenes, and possibly internal ever-negotiating psyche in pieces such as Periscope, Street Level journeys us out of any lazy-boy cushioned bubble we may live in when we walk through it.

Galen Cheney is a Vermont-based artist. Street Level is on exhibit at BCA until June 23rd. Cheney is currently co-curating Natural Constructed Spaces at The Painting Center in New York City.