Dear Reader- Margaret Shepherd’s calligraphy show, “Song of Songs” just opened at Yale’s Divinity School last week. The back story of this event is a curious one, so I thought I’d share it with you…And, in this season of Valentines, it’s easy to talk about some love poetry!
In the Spring of 2010, Adam Schwartz (Indiana Public Media-link below), wrote the article -“Keeping Alive the Lost Art of Letter Writing.” A friend forwarded it to me and that’s how I first learned of Margaret Shepherd. Back then, I read or purchased anything that contained the word, “LETTER.” The Art of the Personal Letter was mentioned in Adam’s article. I also discovered that Margaret Shepherd had written- The Art of the Handwritten Note. These two small volumes are precious testaments for keeping the art of handwritten letters alive. I was smitten.
I wrote to Margaret Shepherd and thanked her for her books. She told me that letter writing was her “favorite way to communicate.” As it turns out, Margaret lives in Boston and is very accessible and friendly.
Still working as a letter carrier, I came across a Peabody Museum catalog in the daily sorting of mail. There I learned that The David Friend Gemstone Hall was about to open. (youtube video below) (David is Margaret’s husband.) I wrote and asked for an invitation, and soon I met Margaret in person. I handed her a letter with my proposal for my letter writing business. We made plans to meet again in Boston.
On that initial visit, Margaret told me about her Song of Songs project. She had completed 6 to 10 verses. There were two of Margaret’s framed pieces hanging on the wall at St. Botolph’s dining hall. I could not see them with people’s heads blocking my view. What I sensed, immediately, was that the art work needed to be displayed in a larger venue.
Song of Songs has always been a mystery to me. Why these verses were left in the bible confounds many of us. However, I loved that Margaret was focusing her talents on these ancient love poems. When I asked her where she would like to have an exhibition. Without hesitation, she answered, “The Yale Divinity School.”
I happen to live not too far from Yale University. I have been to the gallery at the Divinity School. So, I took a chance and went there. This was before COVID, and the building was open to the public. I made my way to the second floor where the offices are, and asked a sleepy student where I might find the communications director. He gave me an email. Next, I came home and fired off an introduction with questions about the possibility for Margaret Shepherd to have an art exhibit there. It was handy that I had some scans of her art to send. I was told that Yale mainly exhibits only Yale people, students and alumni. But, the Song of Songs artwork was too glorious to pass up. The discussion continued and I got out of the middle. In the end, the Divinity School agreed to host an exhibition. The date was set for 2020, but we all know that that didn’t happen during the pandemic. What did happen was Margaret got a book deal for the Song of Songs. The printing is exquisite. With each page, Margaret discusses her process and her research. She waded through multiple translations and chose to make the verses as modern as possible. It is interesting to note that all throughout God is never mentioned, and the voice that speaks most often is a woman’s. Also, I learned that the Song of Solomon dates back to sometime between 800 to 600 B.C. “Timeless love poetry,” for sure.
For those of you who can’t come to this exhibit, link to Paraclete Press below. There’s a marvelous video of Margaret Shepherd discussing her calligraphy from last year’s showing at Sarah Lawrence College. And maybe, you might want to buy yourself a copy of Song of Songs for Valentine’s Day. Now there’s an idea!