Finding a Lost Art

Going through Ursula Le Guin’s papers, nothing has really stood out to me as surprising in regards to the content I was reading. Perhaps my previous unfamiliarity with her as an author gave me no preconceived notions to surprise, or maybe I’m simply looking through some dull papers regarding interview requests and the occasional transcript. Instead, what has astonished and amazed me the most in the archives has been the handwriting. While I admit that some letters are a little messy with scratchy writing, other correspondents have penmanship so nice it almost seems fake. There may be little flourishes or even a calligraphy quality to some, and the result is me scrutinizing, not the content, but the flow of the lettering, the construction and elegance of their f’s, r’s, and g’s.

To me some of the writing seems as if it is from another time, one long past, before spell check and e-mail, when letters were written and whatever was put on the paper, ramble or no, was usually the final thing. There is a quality to a letter that simply does not carry over into e-mail, something to be read in the loops and slant of the letters. One reason I’m so fascinated by the penmanship of the various authors is because this summer I decided that I wanted to improve my cursive so, in my spare time, I would write down song lyrics in an attempt to establish a flowing script. As we work more and more with computers, the art of handwriting is slowly disappearing, a fact that saddens me greatly. I went into the archives with the expectation of simply learning about Le Guin but to be handed such a gallery of lettering was both surprising and captivating.

As a side note, another unexpected discovery was a postcard written to LeGuin by one Heinz Tschachler of the University of Oregon English department in 1986. They had been corresponding previously about an interview and the postcard merely had a few scrawled words, but the picture on the front was of the UO campus and that is what caught my eye. I spent a good 10-15 minutes inspecting that photo to see what was the same, what was different, seeing how things have changed. Most of the science buildings are just a parking lot, the rec fields are just that, fields, the education and music schools are only a couple buildings, and 13th st seems to go all the way through. It was an intriguing find.

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2 responses to “Finding a Lost Art

  • aimeekatefritsch

    That postcard is really cool! Some of the science buildings, like Onyx Bridge, and maybe Volcanology/Cascade are there, but it looks like they’re building Willamette during the time of that picture. It makes me wonder what happened to Gerlinger, because it looks actually pretty at this point in time. Cool find!

  • cstabile

    Despite your opening disclaimer, you certainly did find some surprising finds. Until I read your post, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that some of the correspondence was handwritten. I guess I spend so much time in archives and otherwise surrounded by handwriting (it’s a generational thing) that I hadn’t considered cursive as an art form that’s gradually disappearing. I don’t think they teach cursive in secondary school anymore, although I can’t say whether I think that’s a good or bad thing.

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