I was listening to NPR while driving Sunday morning and the topic of discussion was tribe and group affiliation. Specifically, the reporters’ interviews revealed how emotionally charged a person’s connection with a group/tribe can be, and how even after many years, one can continue to feel deep nostalgia for and affinity with a particular group.

The piece was timely, I thought, because my daughter Maeve is currently attending Kickapoo Kamp (yes, Kamp spelled with “K”) in Kerrville, Texas. A significant part of her experience at camp relates to her tribe activities: she is a Cherokee, and the rival tribe are the Choctaws. Cherokees are red; Choctaws are blue, and each girl wears her tribe colors in the form of tee-shirts and bandanas. Throughout the two weeks of camp, the tribes compete–in friendly fashion–for the sacred blanket which is awarded to the winning group at the fire-ceremony at camp’s end. This ritual is a culmination of a series of tribe activities, including an induction ceremony at the beginning of the session where new members are named to a tribe, as well as meetings and competitions throughout the week. Last year, the Choctaw Chief–a lovely high school age young woman–was so undone by the Cherokee victory that she was moved to tears.
My daughter later reported that there were no hard feelings on the chief’s part–she was simply worried that she had let her tribe down.

I was never a Cherokee or a Choctaw, and actually wonder about the political correctness of co-opting Indian names for Summer camp. However, I can proudly say I am a calligrapher. And as I have discovered, through participation in my own local guild, as well as attending and teaching at international conferences, I am part of a unique and special tribe, a ubiquitious one which spans the globe. Indeed, I can go to nearly any city in the USA and abroad and find a member of this tribe–someone who would not only identify him/herself as a calligrapher, but would welcome me, a stranger, as an old friend.

If I were to give a profile of a member of this tribe (nearly impossible, there is such variety among us!) it might look something like this:

She loves words and language, is an artist in his own write/right; He/she has deep thoughts, is kind, caring and deeply spiritual (lots of variety there, too!) and is willing to speak out for what he/she believes (not shy of politics, whichever side the calligrapher is on), and is deeply compassionate–and giving. Oh, and talented–he/she is Very talented. and willing to share the pen off of his/her back. He/she will offer you paper when you run out in class, and will give you a pen because it is the “coolest tool which you must try!” He/she is an adventurer, willing to travel great distances to broaden her experience and skills, and to commune with her tribe. She probably makes paper, binds books and creates watercolors, oils or acrylics in her spare time, or is passionate about drawing. He/she has more ideas than time to realize them, and is probably great at photoshop and even skilled at building a website. He/she is a renaissance man/woman, with whom anyone would be fascinated to converse and spend time.

The calligraphic tribe has annual conferences, as well as other gatherings, from North Carolina to New Mexico where members are re-united, and where workshops are offered for education and skill-building. The shared, collective conference experience is one with its own rich history and lore, and where rituals abound. There are the opening and closing ceremonies which have predictable elements from year to year. There is also the ritual of hosting parties: the conference organizers for the next year typically host the party on the last night of the conference, which includes music, dance and general revelry. Not unlike Maeve’s Summer camp, after a week of intense art-making, conference participants have a hard time saying goodbye. One’s only consolation for leaving this profoundly rewarding “tribal” experience seems to be looking forward to meeting again next year, in another location, for another calligraphy conference.

For anyone curious about calligraphy and who missed the opportunity in their youth to be affiliated with a tribe, consider joining ours. Our colors are not limited to the blue and red of Choctaw and Cherokee, and we make our own symbols in the form of beautiful lines, words, images.There are few rules: only the eagerness to learn. As a member of this calligraphic tribe, your world will broaden in unexpected ways–art and otherwise–and you will make friends for life.

Local Austin Texas tribe: Capital City Scribes

POST SCRIPT: Some of my beloved local fellow tribe-members took me out to lunch today for my 47th birthday. The generosity of their spirit–in the time they took from their busy days to be with me–as well as the beauty in the gifts they gave (calligraphers are the best people from which to receive cards , trust me) overwhelmed me. I love these women dearly, as well as admire, respect and appreciate them as human beings and artists. How grateful I am to be included in their company!


  1. It is always a treat to see your delicious lettering and design, Sharon.

    and…Happy Birthday!



  2. Beautifully written, Sharon. We do make an interesting tribe!

    I look forward to more of your writing on calligraphy… your insights…

    and… Happy Birthday!


  3. Beautiful, as always!! Have you read MUTANT MESSENGER DOWNUNDER? About the Aborigine beliefs? It was wonderful – explains a lot for me. I just sent this to a friend who just complimented your book covers you did for me. LOVE those things – and am putting a link to you in the new one. Judy Harper


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