Sunday, August 19, 2012

Barbara Calzolari Penabler Interview.

The weekend of Barbara’s Nib to Brush calligraphy workshop at Binderscame with a Friday night Penablermeeting, during which I had the pleasure of interviewing her. I was so excited, I forgot to tape the interview. A week later I did it again via Skype and below are the details of our conversation. Using Inside the Actor’s Studio Pivot Questionnaire as a jumping off point,Barbara expanded on her answers and gives us a hearty glimpse of what makes her tick.
If you are a calligraphy instructor interested in teaching at the Binders Art School in Atlanta, or would like to participate in an Atlanta Penabler event or interview, contact Anne Elser at or Jacob Gunter at

Anne Elser: What is your favorite word?
Barbara Calzolari: ”Love.” Absolutely.

AE: What is your least favorite word?
BC: ”Modern.” The idea of a modern trend I find unnecessary and fleeting. When work is done without structure or reason, when there is no tradition in the back, I find it fake. It’s thoughtless and is less about YOU because it doesn’t come from within. <> I am vintage.

AE: What turns you on?
BC: Letters. Music from the cold countries (Iceland, etc) : Dead Can Dance. Brian Eno and his deep roots. Bjork, who has a deep voice that comes from her heart. She uses her voice like that of nature’s – a waterfall, yet with human emotion. I also love a group called Air, from France.
Nothing of my music collection is downloaded. I prefer actual CD’s because they are tangible, I can hold them in my hands and it’s easier for me to categorize them from the design of the jacket and the spine you see on the shelves. I am inspired by the graphic design of the case.

AE: What turns you off/makes you angry?
BC: Fighting. Useless conflict. And students who cannibalize your work/ideas without giving credit to their inspirations. Before every workshop I teach, I give thanks to the great teachers I’ve had and credit them for the gift of their instruction, how they’ve guided and inspired me.
I used to be a caterer. I’d double my recipes so I’d have backup. If I had leftovers, I’d give them away freely. I once had a girl who had her own coffee bar come to a party I catered. I gave her some leftovers. She then took them and sold them in her shop. Without asking. People who do dishonest things for a profit make me angry.

AE: What is your favorite curse word?
BC: Bastardo!

AE: What sound or noise do you love?
BC: City noises. Traffic, buses, movement. Life.

AE: What sound or noise do you hate?
BC: Car alarms.

AE: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
BC: A chef.

AE: What profession other than your own would you not like to do?
BC: A surgeon. <>

AE: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
BC: Enter at your own risk. <>

AE: What was your earliest creative memory?
BC: I fell in love with letterforms in my Uncle’s shop. I remember watching him create beautiful black labels for boxes. I distinctly remember falling in love with letters at that moment. I also remember my father, who was a cabinet maker/fine craftsman. After dinner, I’d watch him work with fine woods, cut flowers out of ivory and mother of pearl. AE: You have your father’s hands, don’t you? BC: <> Yes.

AE: What was the best part of your childhood?
BC: In my youth, while my mother was away, I had a nanny to look after me, Brauna. She was very much a mother to me and later, a grandmother to my daughter, Frida.
Brauna was a tailor, and a great inspiration to me. In the afternoons, I’d come home after school to Brauna at the kitchen table, embellishing a dress by hand with fine beads and jewelry. She had clients come to her house for fittings and there was a beautiful striped gray silk scarf that hung on a hook by the front door of the house. When I walked in and the scarf was missing, I knew Brauna was working with a client. She used the scarf to protect the shape of the big hairstyles popular in the mid-seventies of her clients while trying on a dress.
Brauna was an angel. She had long, well-manicured nails. It amazed me that she had the time to take such good care of her hands, considering how much she used them for work.
She was also a mother for my daughter Frida. She made her the best, most fancy dresses and costumes for Carnival, like Frida Kahlo or Red Riding Hood and fine miniature clothes for Frida’s Barbie dolls.
Brauna had a pillow she made for her house, onto which she embroidered my name to remember me by, once I had grown. I don’t have that pillow now, but I do have the heavy vintage foot-petal sewing machine she used. I use it now.
Both of us connected deeply with Brauna. She died of cancer 6 years ago. Friday cried for three solid days.

AE: What do you love about teaching?
BC: To know people. I love finding a way to be understood and to understand our differences and similarities.

AE: In comparing the differences and similarities between your home country, Italy, with the US, what do you love/dislike?
BC: In Bologna, Italy, I love the mix of art from the past as far back as the middle ages, with that of our contemporary surroundings and lifestyle. The arts are so easily accessible there, because it’s physical. Real. Everywhere you look, there is tangible ancient history. But because of this, the expression and flourish of the creative spirit can become somewhat stifled. The arts can become ordinary and lose their impact. Because art is everywhere, the need to find it and recreate it isn’t as prevalent in Europe.
Americans are different than Europeans in that they have an acute hunger for the arts, because it’s not such a strong physical environmental presence. Developing personal artistries and crafts are very important to Americans. They want to share, to give, to express, to constantly make things. They create this kind of open environment where people can share and encourage one another. Europe is different. Artists and craftsman can be very guarded and secretive about their information and processes.

AE: How large is your studio and is it genrally kept clean or messy?
BC: Small. One quarter of my wall space is filled with shelves of music CDs. And it’s messy.  <>

AE: What gets you up in the morning?
BC: Walking or running with my dog, Tina, named after Frida Kahlo‘s lover, Tina Modotti.
Enjoying a tree.
The daughter of a cabinetmaker and restaurateur, Barbara Calzolari was born in Bologna, Italy in 1963. She attended the ENALC, a school of commercial art, in Bologna and studied with Roberto Canaider, art director of Buton, who played a major role in her training. Later, she worked for Publiflash (the silkscreening laboratory of the painter Otello Brocca) and completed projects for Bologna’s Galleria díArte Moderna, where she met and came to know artists such as Aligi Sassu, Virgilio Guidi, and Ugo Nespolo. Other encounters would later come to change the direction of her professional life, among them her meeting with Massimo Osti, founder of StoneIsland and C.P. Company, who offered her the chance to work in the fashion sector. She began to work with large firms in the garment trade and to collaborate with Daniele di Montezemolo and Ferrante Gonzaga on designing collections and developing products for Pirelli, Ferrari, and Ferrero.
Meanwhile, over a period of years, she cultivated and pursued her greatest passion: calligraphy. She contacted the Associazione Calligrafica Italiana, where she met Anna Ronchi and Giovanni De Faccio. In 2000, she took part in a training workshop with the American Brody Neuenschwander, who is famous for his ìscriptî in several films by the English producer Peter Greenaway. In the United States, she studied in greater depth the use of the flexible nib for Spencerian script, participated in a retreat at YMCA University with Michael Sull, and, in 2007, went to Ohioóhome of Platt Rogers Spenceróto attend the Advanced Spencerian workshop on this very elegant script of Anglo-Saxon origin that employs strokes and skills accessible only to the most expert calligraphers.
She regularly attends international calligraphy conventions, where she has met and worked alongside Pat Blair, current calligrapher for the White House; Joe Vitolo, master of the flexible nib; and Sheila Waters, founder of the Washington Calligraphers Guild, which Barbara Calzolari has joined. In 2008, Barbara Calzolari applied her skills to the creation of the masterpiece ìDeus Caritas est,î a complete work of art in book form, for the Italian art publishing house Marilena Ferrari-FMR. For the same publisher, she engrossed ìas a souvenir of the Italy of beautyî the national anthems that the prime minister of Italy wished to present to the heads of state assembled at the G8 Summit in 2009.
Regularly she teaches internationally in USA and Europe.


Sergii said...

Very interesting! Would you mind if I translate that interview into Russian and post it on my blog I would like to make post about Barbara Calzolari with links on your blog.

Anne Elser said...

Please go ahead! Thanks for asking Sergii.