An artist with grand intentions
Calligrapher Holly Monroe works from the soul
The font of regular words is not enough for what Holly Monroe wants to communicate.
Her mission statement is: To feed the soul by making meaningful words beautiful.
There are things in my heart that are important to say to the world, Monroe says. I became intrigued by calligraphy because it let me do this.
To enter Monroes new studio in Lake Oswego is to have a beautiful experience. You see her big projects and her little projects, because you have to do all kinds of projects to make a living as an artist. Big or little, Monroes work is praised as magnificent by her friends, colleagues and customers. They seem to have a book of adjectives handy when describing Monroes art. They dont just like her work, they love it.
When you look at Hollys work, it seems like you can hear a Gregorian chant in the background, says Sharlyn Stare, who has three of Monroes pieces in her house and has commissioned a dozen more. When you see her work its phenomenal. Its just wild.
Her artwork and calligraphy, its absolutely extraordinary, says Ronna Schneider, who has commissioned some of Monroes finest work. It is fascinating to watch Holly at work. Her hands are so steady. Just like a surgeons hands.
Monroe is also described by Schneider as one of the kindest people she has ever known, and rave reviews only seem to make her more humble. Even while she is working on a $100,000 project called The Book of Hours. She doesnt fit the usual conception of a calligrapher as an intense recluse sitting alone in a room.
Actually, Monroe looks more like a dancer than a calligrapher. She is gracious, attractive, friendly, and on the diminutive side. She has to hop to get on her work stool. She can easily draw a visitor into her special world.
There has been calligraphy as long as there has been written history, Monroe says. The monks in the monasteries used to divide up the work on calligraphy, the letters, the illustrations, the gold leaf. I do all of those things.
Holly Monroe was born to be a calligrapher, probably because her father, Clifford Mansley, is a calligrapher (as was her grandfather). When Monroe was a senior in high school, her dad strongly hinted that calligraphy would be worth looking into.
He told me, You need to have a job, Monroe says. If you own your own business, you wont have to flip hamburgers.
Monroe took her father up on his suggestion, and when she was in college, she got her first commission from a fraternity to hand-letter some certificates. She still does that job for the same fraternity today. A career in calligraphy began to look more and more appealing to Monroe because she anticipated getting married and having children, and doing calligraphy would allow her to work at home.
As Monroe progressed as an artist, her commissions kept getting bigger and more costly. Her career really caught fire when she did four books for Cincinnati billionaire and philanthropist Carl Lindner. She was able to keep up with her clients demands because she had skills that go beyond the artistic.
Holly really has a style and creativity that captures the text, Stare says. You can tell her what youre looking for, and she comes back with some phenomenal work. She has such an ability to create something for your need. She never says, Heres this. Take it or leave it.
Holly is one of the most talented people Ive ever met, Schneider says. I can visualize an idea, but I dont have the artistic ability to implement it. Holly can make my ideas come to life because she can read my mind.
Schneider commissioned Monroe to do a $20,000 book for her first grandchild. Its the mother of all baby books, Monroe says. She has also done a family history book and a Book of Julia about Schneiders daughter.
For another major work, Monroe teamed up with high school teacher Ryan Thelen, who hired her to recreate all of the documents of Americas Founding Fathers, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. This monumental task required four years of work and marked the first time that all six Charters of Freedom were reproduced on calfskin. When Monroe got done with them, these historical documents never looked better, and her effort got big media coverage in Cincinnati.
Instead of brown, crumbling copies, these are the best, Monroe says. Ryan sells copies of them for $1,000 each.
These superb recreations are suitable for schools, historical institutes or the newsroom at Fox News.
I found that Holly is a perfectionist, Thelen says, and she has a deep love of American history. That was a perfect combination for this project. Some parts of these old documents are not recognizable, but I was able to trust her judgment about when to put in a crosshairs or a flourish. She would know what to do.
After many years of distinguished work in Ohio, Monroe is now re-establishing herself in Oregon. She gave up a lot.
Monroe explains, I went to Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, and it talked about making a Brave Journey. That means you step out of your comfort zone and take a risk with your life. I chose to come to Oregon because my parents were having health issues, and I wanted to help them. So I sold my house and left my wonderful friends in Cincinnati.
She has adjusted to her new life by working very hard at her art, not only on making ornate and expensive books, but smaller things like wall art and greeting cards. Using her vivid imagination, Monroe even does calligraphy cruises.
She believes the well of her talent comes from her deep faith in God and says the key to her life can be found in a verse from The Book of Jeremiah, 29:11-13: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
For more about Monroe and her art, go to the website hollymonroe.com. For more on her historical documents go to Patrigraphica.com.