Margaret Shepherd '69

By Patti Harmon

When calligrapher Margaret Shepherd '69 was in the third grade, she flunked handwriting. “I’m not a natural calligrapher,” she says. “I had to learn every inch.”

This “fluky story” is a source of pride for Shepherd, whose nearly 50-year career has ranged from lettering thousands of MIT diplomas to restoring ceiling inscriptions in classical Greek at Boston College. She was inspired to pursue calligraphy by Norberto Chiesa, a former Sarah Lawrence instructor.

One day about 10 years ago, Shepherd’s oeuvre took an illustrative turn when she was writing the word woman. “I noticed that the rounded ‘w’ looked like breasts and the ‘o’ was a belly button,” she says. Woman became a series, one of many to come.

The figures depicted in her calligraphy are often people Shepherd knows. “When you have fewer letters, it becomes more challenging to make words look like pictures,” she says. “It is also more fun. The viewer feels as though the image has been concealed in the letters all along, and 
my art lets it be seen.”

Shepherd’s work is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City. She has also authored 18 how-to books, including The Art of the Personal Letter, which lead aspiring calligraphers through exercises that train the eye and guide the hand.

In this texting age, Shepherd encourages people to keep handwriting alive. “We say things better when we put pen to paper,” she says. “Handwriting gift wraps your words.”



FW ink on watercolor paper

20" x 26"