Is the alphabet humankind's greatest invention?
Eric Marland, Master letter carver and curator of our upcoming exhibition, Alphabet Museum, thinks so. In this exhibition, we explore the history and evolution of our system of communication, now so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. A visit to this collection will show how, in the hands of the most skilled letter designers and carvers, the symbols of our alphabet take on new life, becoming the message as well as the messengers.
Throughout his career as a letter designer and carver, Eric had barely given the forms of letters much thought, "I'd worked with the alphabet constantly without questioning it in any way or wondering about its origins." It was a slate alphabet Eric inherited from Will Carter that changed this. It had been carved in David Kindersley's workshop for the renowned epigrapher and alphabet expert, David Diringer, whose name can be found in the scattering of letters on the bottom of the slate. This coded clue led Eric to Diringer's books on the development of the alphabet and so began Eric's fascination with the evolution of our alphabet and those from past cultures. "Diringer made me realise how important the development of the alphabet was to the interaction of one culture to another, as well as the passing down of knowledge from long lost civilisations to our own."
Eric has brought together a powerful celebration of the alphabet. Works on display, many of them created for this exhibition, include a contemporary capital alphabet by Martin Cook, as well as work by our latest apprentice, Jackie Perkins. We are particularly excited to display an alphabet carved by the signwriter turned Priest, Father Edward Catich, author of 'The Origin of the Serif' which pioneered the concept, now widely accepted, that the classical Roman capital letter flowed first from the brush before being carved by the chisel. For a lettering tour through time, we also display an alphabet reflecting letterforms designed and carved in the style of a different period, from archaic Greek through to Bauhaus and post-modern, with thanks to Sekford Watches and Salvatori Stone for the loan of this piece.
Lettering artists use the alphabet to communicate our thoughts and feelings, informing our most important works, from a finely-designed headstone for a loved one to a celebratory gift for a wedding. We are delighted that this exhibition will give the space for us to consider how these symbols came to be and how beautifully they can be interpreted, in the right hands.
Some work from our Alphabet museum Exhibition is available to purchase in our shop.