Ariane Bankes on lettering and commemorative engraving

Fitting Memorials

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As soon as I could hold a pen I was taught copperplate script by my splendidly bossy elder sister, who was determined to pre-empt any teacher’s pernicious influence. I can still remember the thrill of achieving an infant version of that delicate balance between broad sweep and fine line, of swooping between upper and lower registers, creating delicious patterns on the page that actually meant something. From that promising start my handwriting has deteriorated steadily over the decades, but friends say they still see some trace of its origins, and one legacy of that early tuition is my lifelong love of lettering. As teenagers we biked around East Anglian churches with tubes of paper and blocks of wax crayon poking out of our baskets, alighting to tease out vigorous impressions of ancient brasses in dusty naves, the curlicues of their script imperfectly ghosting through the paper, and I have haunted country graveyards with their slanting stones and lichened legends ever since.

Imagine my pleasure then when, on a recent visit to Blair Castlein Perthshire, I came across two elegant inscriptions from Milton’s Paradise Lost on Purbeck stone standing sentinel either side of a gateway; inside, dotted around the walled Hercules Garden, stood further beautifully executed examples of lettered stone bearing their lines of consolation or celebration: Julian of Norwich’s elegaic ‘All shall be well’ picking up the light from the morning sun in its jagged runnel of gold; Charlotte Howarth’s wry ‘Remember Me’ raising a rueful smile from passers-by. Here is just a selection of the Art and Memory Collection originally commissioned by the Memorial Arts Charity (now renamed The Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust, or lcat), which is scattered across various sites in Britain as a reminder of how beautiful and varied memorial art can be.

It is all the inspiration of Harriet Frazer who, in the 1980s, frustrated in her search for a memorial for her

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About the contributor

Ariane Bankes helps to run various festivals when not wishing she had the time, talent and patience to retrain as a letter-carver.

For more details on The Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust (lcat), see www.memorialsbyartists.co.uk and www.memorialartscharity.org.uk. The Trust will be displaying its work, with demonstrations of letter-carving and works for sale, at Art in Action, Waterperry, Oxfordshire, 19–22 July 2012.

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