If you want to check out some of Diane Von Arx’s most popular lettering, check out General Mills’ Count Chocula cereal. Yup, she did the lettering.
But if you want to see something a little more magnificent and painstaking, check out the Saint John’s Bible at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse. Von Arx is one of the calligraphers who worked on the Bible.
Originally from La Crescent, Von Arx had an early interest in art, particularly lettering.
“I’ve always been interested in lettering. I used to decorate folders for my classmates in school. My boss that hired me up here in Minneapolis, one of the reasons he hired me was because of my handwriting.”
It was while working at that commercial studio that she first learned calligraphy.
“I was hired to do production work, and we did lots of work for General Mills. I did the original lettering on Count Chocula.”
Von Arx became so good that she began teaching calligraphy, but it was her work as a student — taking classes from calligrapher Donald Jackson — that got her the gig on The Saint John’s Bible.
Jackson is the senior scribe to Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office, and when Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, near St. Cloud, commissioned this bible, they put Jackson in charge. It contains all 73 books from the Old and New Testaments and is presented in seven volumes.
The Bible was made using materials such as vellum (calf skin), ancient inks, gold and silver leaf and platinum and was written with quill pens fashioned from goose, turkey and swan feathers.
When Von Arx teaches her calligraphy class, she will make the quill pens they use, probably from turkey feathers. They won’t write on calf skin, but they will get a feel for what Von Arx and the other calligraphers did.
Von Arx said this project was special because most of her calligraphy skills are spent hand lettering documents for retirements or certificates and citations. The Bible made her work to her highest skill level.
Even if you don’t participate in her workshop, Von Arx hopes you will go to the Franciscan Spirituality Center and see the exhibit.
“It is just awe inspiring,” she said. “It will really inform you.”
And you will get to see what happens when a calligrapher skips a line in the document. No, Jackson didn’t make the calligrapher recopy the page. Instead, a small bird was drawn, with its beak pointing to where the missing line should be, with a string line drawn to the bottom of the page and wrapped around the missing line, which is added at the bottom of the page. There are at least two examples of that in the exhibit here in La Crosse.