For the Love of the Letter
Any time we take up a pen and paper to write a letter, we have the opportunity to create something special, a connection to the recipient in a way which poets, musicians, playwrights and visual artists have marveled over for hundreds of years.
“The Letter as Art in the Digital Age,” an exhibition curated by Dr. Dallie Clark, a humanities professor at Collin College and Richardson resident, seeks to capture the interplay between art inspired by the handwritten letter and the letters themselves, which allow the writer to express things in script that he or she might not otherwise convey.
“Choosing to write a hand-penned letter allows us the opportunity to create a purposeful piece of artful communication via our own unique handwriting,” Clark said. “By choosing to compose a letter in our own one-of-a-kind handwriting, we can include lyrical lines, humorous anecdotes, poems and quotations; we can include sketches, enclose pressed botanicals, photos and other delightful ephemera. Such a creation is something the recipients can savor, touch and, literally, hold close to their hearts.”
Clark, who is an advisory board member for the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, as well as for AIR (Arts Incubator of Richardson), has long been enamored with the letter as art and communication. It is a love inspired in part by a gift from her mother — a shoebox full of letters found while antiquing. The letters sparked something in Clark.
“I guess her own curiosity and appreciation for the handwritten word stayed with me,” she said.
Years later, it was yet another second-hand find at a garage sale that set Clark on the path to creating “The Letter as Art in the Digital Age.” She happened upon a vintage 1961 book published by Hallmark called “The Spirit of the Letter in Painting” and was hooked.
“Inside, I beheld beautiful masterworks from centuries past featuring people reading or writing letters,” she said. “From then on, not only did I see art in letters themselves, it seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw examples of how letters had inspired other art forms as well. Films, music, poetry, plays, novels, paintings, home décor — all of it!”
Clark said she began slowly accumulating not only examples of penmanship in letters, but also other items inspired by letter writing such as sheet music, record pressings, movie posters, pens and pen advertisements, postcards and stamps.
The walls of Clark’s home office are lined with examples of art inspired by the letter. You could call the impulse to explore the world of art and letters a driving force of her work in the humanities. The topic intrigued her so much that she based her doctoral dissertation on it. And when she was named Collin College’s Lebrecht Endowed Chair for Scholarly and Civic Engagement, Clark saw an opportunity to share her passion for art and the written word with the world.
“The Letter as Art in the Digital Age” exhibition, which will run Jan. 17-Feb. 22 at Collin College’s THE ARTS gallery, will provide an interactive experience for its visitors, including a letter writing station.
“Visitors will not only be able to peruse some beautiful, artistic letters, but they’ll also be able to view short film clips about letters — or listen to music composed about letters,” Clark said. “They’ll be able to see paintings inspired by letters and a few student projects as well. Additionally, the art of the stamp and other letter writing materials will also be on display.”
Clark believes that while society as a whole may have moved away from handwriting letters with the advent of digital technologies, communication does not need to be an “either/or” proposition.
“There’s no reason why we can’t appreciate and nurture multiple forms of communication,” she said. “When I bring up this topic with my classes, my students have been amazingly open and excited about rekindling and/or discovering the art of the letter in their own lives.”
Clark hopes this exhibition may do the same for its visitors, opening up new channels of art and communication in their lives. And if not, it may at least inspire their appreciation of the letter’s value to society and culture. She also hopes “The Letter as Art in the Digital Age” will be a traveling exhibition and that other venues will want to host it in the near future. n
THE ARTS gallery is located in room A-175 of Collin College’s Spring Creek Campus, 2800 E. Spring Creek Parkway in Plano. For gallery hours or more information on the show and related events, please visit www.collin.edu/department/artsgallery/.
AIR Time with Dr. Dallie Clark
“The Letter as Art in the Digital Age”
Interview followed by a screening of “The Notebook”
Wednesday, Feb. 15
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Richardson
Free admission, but reservations recommended
AIR Time is a signature interview series featuring artists and creative thinkers in North Texas. Following the interview, attendees screen a film related to the evening’s topic.
Can’t make the event? Look for the podcast on iTunes.