To Live Content With Small Means…

by Alden Cole on January 5, 2014 · 1 comment


1963. In the spring of that year, I was finishing up my freshman year at RISD in Providence. One of my assignments for Calligraphy class that spring fifty-one years ago resulted in the art featured today (seen below in its original condition, and after my amendments just last year). The calligraphy assignment: decorative capitals. I remember that I had no innate genius at age 18 for creating original decorative caps so I went looking for inspiration; eventually finding it in a book of texts illustrated with samples of various calligraphies, ranging from ancient classics such as the Book of Kells to more modern classics like the Art Nouveau poster work of Alphonse Mucha. Intimidated a bit by their full, glorious color, I opted for simpler fare –  black ink on toned paper. After finding an elaborate b&w initial cap that I wanted to imitate elsewhere in the same book, I decided to combine this rather florid capital letter with the rigidity of German Black Letter, a lettering style I had been drawn to as a teenager first working with a wide nib pen, ideal for making thick/thin marks. I modified both the cap and the black letter to my own sensibilities, using a text found elsewhere. Unfortunately I did not pre-plan the page’s lettering as tightly as I should have, so by the time I neared the end of the page, there really wasn’t enough room to  include the full text, so I arbitrarily cut it short…

2013. In the spring I came across the calligraphy project in a portfolio of old work. Reading it over I realized that the text was incomplete, so I decided to enlist google’s help in finding the complete text. Voila! The magic of Google. I only had to enter the first three words – To live content… and the rest of the phrase appeared. Google came up with its usual endless supply of links, but one at the top caught my eye immediately: a link to Bruce Lee – yes that Bruce Lee. Now how’s this for a coincidence? In the fall of 1963, just a few months after I had lettered this project, Bruce Lee also came across this quote somewhere, and copied much of it onto the back of a postcard which he wrote to his future wife. I was impressed! However, once I realized that Bruce Lee was not the originator of the quote, I back-linked to Google and eventually discovered who actually did: William Henry Channing (1810-1884) friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and one of the foremost 19th century American Transcendentalists. A mystery solved…

1963: original calligraphy on toned paper, 25″ x 20″   2013: altered text

ToLiveContentOWP  ToLiveContent.FTWP

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan Marston January 6, 2014 at 11:30 pm

I love the story and content of “To Live Content by Small Means. Your calligraphy is beautiful. I taught cursive writing for 30 years and I appreciate the beauty of your work,Alden. I’m sad that it is a dying art. How interesting to think when we were all freshmen you were working on this project. It stood the test of time. Sue


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