Feb 22, 2015

A Master Calligrapher...

Mr. Louis A. DiGesare
I attended Mont Pleasant High School with a classmate named Richard DiGesare.  We were fairly close friends at the time, but like so many high school friendships we have lost touch over the years.  I believe that Richard went to work for the General Electric Company and moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts after our paths separated.  But the other day, out of the blue, I thought about Richard (amazed that I remembered his name!) and his father's unusual occupation.  His dad, Louis DiGesare, was a professional handwriter.  He worked full-time at the General Electric plant in Schenectady writing formal documents -- certificates, awards, recognitions, diplomas and the like.

I performed a Google search, which resulted in the following newspaper article.  It appeared in The Morning Record of Meriden, CT, on Wednesday, January 27th, 1965.

"Calligraphy is Fast Becoming a Lost Art in the U.S.A.
By Joy Stilley
SCOTIA, N.Y. (AP) – The ancient art of calligraphy isn't yet a lost art, but it’s losing fast to modern machines and techniques.Calligraphy is a flowery, ornamental kind of penmanship much favored in bygone years for fancy documents.
Among the most skilled practitioners of the craft of beautiful writing is Louis DiGesare, at 57 still a youngster among the few remaining members of a profession which is attracting no new recruits.

A Lost Art
“It’s becoming a lost art,” laments DiGesare.  He estimates there are only about 20 master penmen left in this country.  “Most are well along in years, and when the present group is gone there will be nobody to take their places.”
With the costly and time consuming handwork falling out of style, the very-narrowing group pursuing it are finding it harder and harder to buy supplies such as fine papers and fine inks.  “My pen point supplier recently informed me that they were ceasing production because there are so few left who do this sort of work,” said DiGesare.
“I ordered five gross of points and I have about that many on hand, so I should have enough to last a lifetime.”

Mr. Louis A. DiGesare, surrounded by the tools of his trade, circa 1965
Work in Demand
However, as an expert at illumination, ornamentation and engrossing as well as producing the hairlines and shades of fancy penmanship,  DiGesare’s work is still very much in demand.
His is the hand that fills in names on diplomas, as well as creating original diplomas for photoengraving.   His work includes producing certificates, scrolls, resolutions, testimonials, mottoes and banquet name cards.  
The artist has a large assortment of oblique pen holders to which the point is attached at an angle in order to make the light and dark lines and swirls which form the letters.

Favorite Pen Holder
His holders are of all sizes and shapes for different work, mostly of hand-turned wood except for a few plastic ones.  His favorite is one he has used for about forty years.
DiGesare makes his own inks from powder and water, which he boils, strains and bottles.
As a youth, DiGesare became interested in handwriting and took a course in business and ornamental penmanship by correspondence from a school in Kansas City.

Practices Constantly
From there he went on to learn the more difficult calligraphy by reading, talking to experts, studying others’ works, experimenting and practicing.  He still practices constantly to keep his touch.
As a past president of the International Association of Master Penmen and Teachers of Handwriting, DiGesare is happy to see a resurgence of interest in penmanship in the schools today.  He advocates a return to the old push-pull and ovals exercises.His four children, now grown, practiced what he preaches.  During summer vacations, they worked on penmanship an hour a day.
As for their father – when he writes to them nowadays, he uses a typewriter, pleading lack of time.
But his signature and the addresses on the envelopes are always hand-done works of art."

A further search yielded this gorgeous hand-lettered certificate presented by the IAMPETH in 1968, declaring him to be the "World's Best Ornamental Penman."  

According to Dr. J.M. Vitolo, "Louis DiGesare, an early IAMPETH member was considered by his peers in the to be the last of the great Ornamental Penman shown here in the 1950's with pen in hand. The specimens were penned by him. Taken from the HJ Walter Scrapbook from the IAMPETH Archives."

I further found an article in the Schenectady Gazette in 1973, in which is described the wedding of Louis' son Lawrence, and by that time Louis had passed away.  His was a life full of self-discipline and remarkable creativity and beauty.


John T. Stines said...

Bob, I've been in contact with Richard recently, discussing his father. I sent him the link to your blog. Hopefully he will find a way to connect to you.


Bob said...

Thanks, John. I just became aware of your comment. I'd love to hear from Richard.