Sunday, October 2, 2022

Art from tragedy: Building the Yorktown Calligraphy Guild

Mary Arndt, founder of the Yorktown Calligraphy Guild, teaches classes regularly to share her love for calligraphy with others. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mary Arndt)
Mary Arndt, founder of the Yorktown Calligraphy Guild, teaches classes regularly to share her love for calligraphy with others. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mary Arndt)

With the soft upstrokes of a calligraphy pen, Mary Arndt has processed her own grief for the past 40 years.

“Really, the hobby started out of tragedy,” she said.

Arndt’s hobby has turned into the area’s only calligraphy guild, which teaches participants different letterforms and skills. But more than just a hobby, calligraphy changed Arndt during two life-altering occasions.

When she was only 14 years old, Arndt’s sister was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. After that, she wasn’t able to bounce back into her normal routines and interests, and one of her teachers started to take note.

“My teacher came to me and said that I had to get out of this sadness, so he was going to teach me calligraphy,” she said.

Through calligraphy, Arndt was able to process her grief. She said the quietness needed for focus slows down her breathing and helps her relax. Calligraphy helped give her a sense of calm in an otherwise unpredictable life.

It was then, as a middle school student, that Arndt learned the unique hobby she wouldn’t realize would come back to help again later in life.

For the next few decades, Arndt picked up the pen and continued her hobby but eventually it fell to the wayside and she wasn’t practicing nearly as much. But she knew her inks and pens were waiting for her if she needed them.

And in 2015, she ended up needing them after her second tragedy hit.

“I was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “It was my second tragedy and I said to myself, ‘well, I want to pass on whatever knowledge I have. I want to leave a legacy.’”

That’s when Arndt started researching calligraphy guilds in the area and found that there wasn’t one near her.

So she decided to start her own.

Mary Arndt, founder of the Yorktown Calligraphy Guild, said that doing calligraphy helps to relax her in times of stress. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mary Arndt)
Mary Arndt, founder of the Yorktown Calligraphy Guild, said that doing calligraphy helps to relax her in times of stress. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mary Arndt)

Her first step was to create a Facebook page to measure interest. After just a couple of months, the page had hundreds of people who shared their work and expressed a desire to share skills as well. Arndt realized she had created an opportunity to teach a skill that not only was practical, but could help others in the way calligraphy had helped her.

“Handwriting isn’t really taught in schools anymore, but there seemed to be a spark of interest,” she said. “And I just thought, ‘I want to be the ember that builds up the fire again.’”

Over the past two years, Arndt has hosted a number of calligraphy courses at the Poquoson library and connected with people about a shared love for letterforms. In her classes, Arndt provides all of the materials for free, including practice worksheets, ink and pens.

All of which is paid for out of the kindness of her heart, she said.

Because for her, it isn’t about cost or making a profit on her Etsy account—it’s about sharing and appreciating a craft she finds beautiful.

“It’s not a normal hobby, but it has its own niche,” she said. “And when people see the beauty of it and then learn how to do it themselves, that’s special to me.”

The Yorktown Calligraphy Guild will host its next class at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 19 at the Poquoson Library. The class is open to the public and free of charge.

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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