With thanks to: Eric de Tugny, Roger Druet, Ines Ingelnick, Alain Mazeran,
Laurent Rebena, the gentil jeune homme at the Centre des arts du livre et
de l' estampe, the gentille assistante at Enluminures, and a few million
Inevitably, lettering arts in Paris have followed the same track as French
culture: the frenzied modernization of the "thirty glorious" years has
created a bit of a split between modernism and tradition. On the side of
tradition, the level of craftsmanship in bookbinding is terrifyingly high,
following a glorious and uninterrupted national evolution. In lettering
design the most interesting aspect of the traditional Parisian scene
remains the old nineteenth-century shop-signs, especially bakeries. There
is little interest in Medievalism, which in France has long been
associated with reactionary politics. French people associate European
calligraphy ("La Calligraphie Latine") with fine handwriting and
epistolary elegance - a lifestyle that many boutiques are happy to support
(Copperplate, by the way, is known as "ecriture anglaise"). Otherwise,
people think of calligraphy first as Chinese, and second as Arabic; not
surprisingly given the large number of Arabic-speaking immigrants, there
are outstanding Arabic calligraphers practicing in France.
Street graffiti has much improved. A few years back, like "le
Rappe-musique" it was a faddish take on American models, but because of
its apparent lack of historic roots graffiti provides a satisfactory sense
of modernity, and can be found on store signs even in fairly staid
neighborhoods. Here again the sense of design is very high, and though
many of the large-scale compositions are slavish imitations of, e.g., wild
style or bubble style, some of the more elaborate tags have considerable
There is also a good deal of experimentation with letters as meaning,
rather than as forms. The Concorde station of the Metro (direction
Issy/Porte de la Chapelle) has a stunning decoration of tiles spelling out
the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Design groups like Robert le Hros
(actually made up of four women) provide interesting patterns that
include, for instance, a fragment from a poem by Baudelaire. There is some
interest in integrating creative writing and calligraphy - a difficult
job, certainly, but with a tradition that goes back beyond deconstruction,
through the experiments of Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Villegle after
World War II, to Apollinaire and Rimbaud.
All in all, though the "scene" in Paris is small, Calligraphy itself seems
far closer to be accepted as "Art" than in Anglo-Saxon countries. There
are plans to make a strong showing at the Salon du Dessin in the year
II) MUSEUMS, GALLERIES and SITES
Note: Entrance fees for Museums and galleries are high, and sometimes
ridiculously so considering the offerings, but there are numerous
reductions available for various groups - if you know to look for them.
"Enseignants" - meaning anyone who teaches - usually get in free or
half-price by showing their ID - and ID from an American college usually
works well. Students also get reduced admissions. However, museum
personnel don't always bother to ask you whether you want to see the
regular display or the special exhibition (which usually costs more), and
because of recent government cutbacks they may not be too eager to let you
pass. There should be a fee schedule by the ticket booth. Look closely,
and be prepared to argue (politely).
Hotel de Cluny,
6 Place Paul Painleve, 75005.
An exceptional collection of Medieval art in an exceptional setting. It
has a reputation for visual dullness, and in fact the presentation is not
very glamorous: it's not the Cloisters in New York. The collections are as
fine as the Cloisters', but with less compromise to the viewer. You have
to look and know what you're looking for.
The collections are organized according to a Medieval guild system, and
the areas devoted to book production are wonderful. There is a display of
fifteenth-century book sheaths, cord bindings, inkpots, lead initials, and
a bronze pen with an ear-cleaner at the other end (hey, if you can't hear
you can't take dictation). The manuscript collection consists of separate
pages set in transparent panels, which can be turned and consulted. Both
sides are visible, the full page is displayed, and the styles are
extremely varied: not your major masterpieces but one the most accessible
overview of writing and illumination styles I have ever seen.
Many scholarly lectures are scheduled, as well as events for kids.
MAISON DE VICTOR HUGO.
Place des Vosges, 75004.
The house occupied by the great poet. The first room has some fine
examples of Romantic lettering design, as well as a set of wooden book
boards in Neo-Gothic style designed for Adele H..
PERE LACHAISE CEMETARY.
One of the great tourist destinations, and a treasure-trove of nineteenth-
and twentieth- century inscriptions - even English (check behind the
monument to Oscar Wilde, by Jacob Epstein).
Many of the churches have a handful of interesting plaques or paintings -
Saint Etienne du Mont, for instance. In Notre Dame, look for the tombstone
of Etienne Yver (1468) in the Chapelle Sainte Clotilde, just before the
III) SOCIETIES and SCHOOLS
SCRIPSIT - Association pour la promotion et le developement de la
84 rue de Charenton 75012.
Still active despite the inevitable insider clashes. They publish AVISO.
29, rue du Moulin Joly, 75011.
Perhaps more of a school than a society; "Latin" and "Persian" workshops.
CENTRE DES ARTS DU LIVRE ET DE L' ESTAMPE.
Hotel Nissim de Camondo,
63 rue de monceau, 75008.
A private school associated with the Union centrale des Arts Decoratifs,
offering professional formation and amateur instruction in the book arts.
Three-year full-time programs in binding, or gilding, or restoration.
Two-year program in framing. Calligraphy classes for amateurs. Avoid the
museum in the same building, unless you're interested in
eighteenth-century furniture and knick-knacks.
IV) STORES and SUPPLIERS
LE CHAT HUANT.
50-52 rue Galande, 75005.
run by Ines Ingelnick, a Chinese calligrapher. Some supplies, but mostly
Ines herself, who keeps tabs on the calligraphy scene.
10 rue Seguier, 75006.
Still holding out in a once-beautiful area now overrun by yuppies and
tourists, this is the shop of Laurent Rebena. In addition to teaching and
displaying his wares, Laurent has been helping to bring calligraphy to
some of the rougher immigrant neighborhoods of the northern town of
Amiens. He and many other scribes participated this December in the Amiens
"Festival of Folk-Tales and Calligraphy," with round-tables, workshops,
and a show devoted to "Calligraphy and Gastronomy" - of course.
ROUGIER ET PLE.
13/15 Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, 75003.
A major craft supplier. There is another store in Paris, several more in
the suburbs and in the provinces. They also sell by mail. The section on
calligraphy is predictably small, the selection of bookbinding supplies,
impressive: presses of all types, gilding supplies, etc. They also sponsor
free demonstrations and workshops, and supply considerable technical
information. Check their bin of leather scraps: they're sold by the kilo.
A good bulletin board in the basement.
L' ESPACE ECRITURE.
20 Place des Vosges, 75004.
Bitchy Right-Bank shop with glass pens, lettering postcards, etc. In the
back room a superb collection of antique letter-boxes, tables, etc. They
sell quills - $10.00 for the goose, $14.00 for the swan. The owner
couldn't tell which was which.
34 allee Riesener, Le Louvre des Antiquaires,
2, Place du Palais-Royal, 75001.
Run by Sandra Hindman, a respected scholar who shares her time between
Chicago and Paris. Fine collection of medieval manuscripts and pages; Dr.
Hindman has also developed an interest in nineteenth-century and early
twentieth century works.
10, rue du Pont Louis Philippe, 75004.
Another good place to look for information and other supplies, with
scribes wandering in to test the pens, and Eric de Tugny, the owner,
offering advice and information. Occasional displays of calligraphic
4 et 6 rue du Pont Louis Philippe, 75004.
Distributor of quality papers, notably Fabriano. Next door to the above.
Along with the Compagnonage Bookstore on the quai nearby, this street is
turning into the modern equivalent of a medieval "book-maker's" street
(the original, the Rue des Parcheminiers, is across the Seine).
45 rue Monsieur le Prince, 75006.
Chinese books and calligraphy supplies. Numerous listings for classes are
posted in the window.
"L' Image par la lettre." A hundred-odd bindings by Michel Richard.
Until January 31, tues-sat. 10-6, sun 12 -7.
Bibliotheque historique de la Ville de Paris,
22, rue Malher, 75004.
Paul Werner, New York City
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