Faculty Focus

McCarthy Contributes to Smithsonian Exhibition


By Lynn Conlee

Department of Art Professor David McCarthy was introduced to the artist H.C. Westermann as an undergraduate at Gettysburg College in the early 1980s. Over the years, Westermann′s work became a focus of research for McCarthy. In acknowledgement of his expertise regarding the artist, McCarthy has been tapped by the Smithsonian Institution to select an example of the artist′s handwriting and write about it for its summer exhibition "The Art of Handwriting."

Known largely as a sculptor, Westermann (1922-1981) began each day of his studio practice writing letters comprised of both words and small hand-drawn graphics. For the Smithsonian show, McCarthy selected a graphics-heavy letter that concludes with Westermann′s formal and practiced signature. McCarthy traced the origin of the signature′s cursive style to the Palmer Method, an old-school classroom training system that aimed to teach "business writing" to students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Instruction concentrated on rhythmic movements of the shoulder and arm, with the goal of generating a legible handwritten text.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art. "Handwriting is disappearing," McCarthy says. "It is a trained skill and a lot of schools no longer teach it. We are moving to block text rather than cursive." Pointing to drawings in a handwriting history text that show the proper angle of the hand to the body for cursive writers, McCarthy describes cursive writing as "a way of disciplining the body, of educating people into a particular kind of literacy, one with a flourish in your writing."

Westermann′s signature will be displayed among those of other great artists of the 18th through the 21st century in the Smithsonian′s Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington, D.C., from June to October. McCarthy′s commentary on Westermann′s work will function as the title card for the letter on display.