Calligraphy enthusiasts in the north east are so fortunate to have the archive of the International Research Centre for Calligraphy (IRCC) on their doorstep.
It was brought to the University of Sunderland by Dr Manny Ling, who established the IRCC in 1999 alongside Professor Ewan Clayton and the Reverend Robert Cooper.
The aim of the IRCC was to promote calligraphy both nationally and internationally, with various symposia, exhibitions, publications and PhD research relating to calligraphy.
Its first exhibition was Beyond Words, in 1999, which was curated by Dr Ling and featured the work of 18 calligraphers, including the three IRCC founders, Susan Hufton, Jean Larcher, John Stevens and my former calligraphy teacher, the late Susan Moor.
In 2019, the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society (CLAS) brought its 25th anniversary exhibition, A Way With Words, to the University of Sunderland.
Delving into a calligraphy treasure trove
Dr Ling now lives and works in Vietnam and Professor Clayton, Professor of Design at the University of Sunderland, has taken over the directorship of the IRCC.
The IRCC collection of calligraphy books was donated by Roehampton University, formerly Roehampton Institute for Higher Education, where many leading calligraphers were taught.
Indeed, some Roehampton alumni have books in the IRCC collection, including Brody Neuenschwander and Susan Hufton.
A Centre for Calligraphy Research
I first took one of my calligraphy classes to make use of the IRCC archive in February 2018, when it was housed in the Murray Library at the university’s city centre campus.
By happy coincidence, Suzie Williams, academic liaison librarian (arts, design and performing arts) at the university, attended one of my workshops recently and invited us back.
The IRCC archive is now in the St Peter’s Library on the other side of the river at St Peter’s Campus, with huge windows creating lots of natural light and a lovely view of the Wear.
As well as calligraphy, the IRCC collection has books on printing, handwriting, letterpress, bookbinding, lettercutting, illumination, computers and typography.
Specialist titles cover Irish art, Islamic calligraphy, medieval book production and famous manuscripts like the Lindisfarne Gospels and Book of Kells.
A facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels is kept in secure storage.
Learning from a range of experts
Among the authors are Edward Johnston, Ann Camp, Heather Child, Margaret Daubney, Tom Gourdie, Peter Halliday and Patricia Lovett.
Some of the books in the collection date back to the 1940s and had that lovely aroma that comes from the yellowing pages of a well-thumbed, vintage book.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover a book published in 1965 that had been written by Tony Hart, one of my childhood art heroes (alongside Neil Buchanan of Art Attack).
I never knew he was a calligrapher. I wonder if he passed his skills on to Morph?
The archive of the IRCC also has magazines, journals and periodicals relating to calligraphy, such as back issues of The Scribe (The Journal of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators), The Edge (The Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society magazine) and Letter Arts Review.
The university also has its own selection of books on calligraphy, lettering, craft, illumination and so on as part of its general art and design collection, just a few shelves away.
Here you’ll find more up-to-date books, including Letman: The Artwork and Lettering of Job Wouters, Calligraphy & Lettering: A Maker’s Guide (published in 2019 by Thames & Hudson in association with the V&A Museum) and Almost Lost Arts – Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping them Alive, which features Margaret Shepherd – another calligrapher whose books are on my calligraphy bookshelf!
St Peter’s Library is open to the public during staffed hours and the IRCC collection is housed on the ground floor of the Prospect Building.
The books can only be loaned to staff and students however, so take a notebook!
For more information about the university’s library services, click here.