How The Guild Began
It wasn’t just a guild that was started 45 years ago (1976). It was a movement. A major part of an even larger undercurrent within the United States to introduce training of the calligraphic and lettering arts. Unlike Europeans or Asians, Americans did not have direct exposure nor a dynamic hands-on access to artifacts and exemplars, or in-depth historical study of calligraphy. Not really—more of a static observation through books, and very few at that during this time.
British import Sheila Waters must have sensed this, perhaps with bemusement, when she, along with her beginning group of students, initiated a rapidly growing study group. She introduced an astonishing world, doing what she does best: imparting knowledge, instruction, application, and critical analysis of classical broad-edged hands.
This small study group would formally organize and become charter members of the Washington Calligraphers Guild in 1976, with Sheila being its first president. Its quality, vision, and presence have since spread internationally, becoming a creative force at a multitude of calligraphy conferences; and offering promotion of skills, up-and-coming talent, and trends within its published journal, Scripsit.
Contemplating these past decades, this guild has influenced the artistic voice and career paths of many of its members (my own radically included). It has expanded in membership and scope, embracing other related arts such as book forms, pointed-pen lettering, flourished decorative handwriting (“modern calligraphy”), abstraction, and illustration—all of which are represented by the artworks of WCG members included in this anniversary Scripsit.
-Tamara Stoneburner, from the introduction to Scripsit 45th Anniversary issue
Sheila Waters graduated from the Medway College of Art in Kent and the Royal College of Art in London. She developed her calligraphic skills under the tutelage of Dorothy Mahoney (assistant to the great pioneer of calligraphy, Edward Johnson). At 22 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and began a career devoted to commissions for royalty, museums, libraries, collectors and publishers. Her work is included in most of the important books which have been published about calligraphy.
A gifted teacher, Sheila shared her extensive knowledge and techniques with calligraphers the world over until her death in 2022.
Sheila's life and artwork were explored in two Scripsit magazines edited and designed by her son Julian Waters: Sheila Waters: Her Golden Thread 1929-2022 (Vol.44, No1, 2022) is a memorial tribute to Sheila Waters and a sequel to Sheila at 80: A Retrospective (Vol. 31, No.2&3, Fall 2009/Winter 2010).
Sheila Waters' 2006 textbook, Foundations of Calligraphy, now in its 5th edition, is available from John Neal Books.
In the photo below, taken at the 25th Anniversary Exhibition opening on July 20, 2001, Sheila Waters holds a document she lettered in 1976 about the founding of the Washington Calligraphers Guild that invited calligraphers to join as charter members.
Washington Calligraphers Guild Charter Members
Nan Jay Barchowsky
Jane K. Brooks
Anne C. Guffey-Lewis
Ann W. Hawkins
Lynn Doney Howlett
Mary A. Larson
Ann W. Middleton
Gladys R. Otey
Donna H. Ryan