A memorial page put together to honour my teacher Ann Camp, who changed the course of my life and touched so many with her insights. Christopher Haanes

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Text by Sue Hufton, FSSI

My teacher, Ann Camp, photographed in her home during my visit in 1991 or -92. C.H.
Ann Camp’s note on the drawing of a Roman serif.
Ann in Digby Sttuartt College, late 1970s or early 80s.
Wendy Westover and Ann Camp
Manuscript book written by Ann Camp 1973 and illustrated by Alison Urwick, 1976.
Ann demonstrating uncials, 1987 or -88. C.H.
Ann’s semi-formal handwritten notes.

Born 17 May 1924

Died 9 April 2019


Many – perhaps most of us – first heard of Ann Camp through her book Pen Lettering, still in print today. Written in 1957 for students it is famously minimalistic, its value lying in the utter clarity of thought that could reduce so much perceptive analysis to so small a volume. I myself was unusually lucky, since I encountered Ann in 1977 at Roehampton where I was studying for my degree and had the options of bookbinding and calligraphy. Without knowing of her reputation I came under her spell, as many had already done and so many of us would in the future.


Elizabeth Ann Camp was born into a brilliant family, the third of four children and the second daughter. At Cambridge her father had been second wrangler, which is to say he was the University’s second highest mathematics graduate. Entering the Navy he taught navigation at Dartmouth with the rank of Instructor Captain, and among his pupils had been the last two Kings of England. Until his death he remained her closest friend.


Her early years were marred by ill health and she was not sent to school. She first studied calligraphy as a teenager at Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute under MC Oliver. War broke out and at eighteen she became a nurse where to her lasting regret, a Matron taught her to smoke as a way of coping with badly injured servicemen. Again her health failed, and after leaving nursing she gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where she was taught by Dorothy Mahoney. The College was evacuated to Ambleside from 1943–45 and Ann finished her ARCA at South Kensington in 1946.


Her greatest influence was to be Irene Wellington, with whom she worked as an assistant at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. It was Irene’s emphasis on the why of a piece of work, rather than on the technique required, that aroused her interest. Irene consistently asked “What is your intention?”, an echo of Johnston, and this was dominant in Ann’s teaching. She began her teaching career in 1948, teaching classes at Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing, the Central School, Ealing School of Art, and City Literary, Marylebone and Hampstead Garden Suburb Institutes.


After her retirement she confessed that she was more interested in teaching us as people, than calligraphy as a subject. She felt her brothers had the benefit of a private education, while she had to make her own way. Calligraphy became her way; it never ceased to excite her interest, with a mind that drew to her people who shared that passion. Julian Brown, professor of palaeography at Kings College London, was a particular friend. It was clear how their minds connected – for just one talk delivered in 1972 she had a bibliography of twenty-eight books.  It was this outstanding scholarship that led to her editing drafts of books whose authorship is attributed elsewhere. She was uninterested in personal glory and accepted the slightest acknowledgement, but as one example, the accuracy of Johnston’s Formal Penmanship owed much to her having assisted Heather Child. This scholarship did not always go down well. She was courageous wherever she knew herself to be right, and she was prepared to live with the dislike this sometimes provoked.


Ann benefited from an education in which calligraphy formed part of the art school curriculum. In 1953 the RCA discontinued calligraphy and in the early 1960s it was dropped from the new Diploma in Art and Design. Only Reigate School of Art continued to teach calligraphy with heraldry. She was convinced of the value of calligraphy within art education – and the value of a wider arts education to the calligrapher. In 1996 she wrote:

“A serious or advanced study of calligraphy is so bound up with cultural continuity and change that it throws a remarkable light on the development and history of western culture. Calligraphy can be as far reaching as any of the arts; and as Lethaby expressed it, like other arts ‘It cannot exist in isolation or one-man thick; it must be a thousand men thick’.” SSI Newsletter 13. Summer 1978. Ann Camp: Celebration of Calligraphy – seventy-five years of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators 1921–1996


It was in response to the gap in calligraphy education that she began a new course at Digby Stuart College where she had a regular teaching commitment to the nuns. When in 1975 Digby Stuart joined with three other teacher training colleges to form Roehampton Institute, she taught the BEd students of which I was to be her last one. At that time she also had a few outside students coming in to study with her who were not part of the formal college contingent. Digby Stuart College, then, had the infrastructure and academic support in place to foster the extension of calligraphy education.


The new course began in 1979 and by the time I returned to study there in 1983, three levels had developed: Certificate in Calligraphy & Bookbinding, Diploma in Calligraphy, and Advanced Diploma in Calligraphy. Ann appointed further tutors and assistants and many people passed through the Calligraphy and Bookbinding rooms at Digby, some staying for at least one full-time year, most for more. 


She undertook commissions through her working life, both of pen and brush lettering. Her CV mentions work for the National Museum of Wales, the V&A, The British Council, Royal Society of Arts, ICI (British Trade Fair in Moscow), the Pharmaceutical Society, the Geological Society, the design of postage stamps, Heal’s and one of the RAF Books of Remembrance at St Clement Danes Church.


Nevertheless teaching was her passion, informed by a deep love of communicating profound concepts to a younger generation. She demonstrated very little, sometimes using the blackboard and very occasionally a pen. After several accidents she was left with a tremor in her hand which was evident but regular and did not detract from the essential forms of the letters. We, her students, were expected to look, analyse, study and think for ourselves. She said:


“The teacher can only point the way, he cannot force people to follow it, and if a chosen direction does not succeed he must seek another approach… We have to find our own way within certain specific disciplines, but it is difficult to do this without guidance and help.” Future Policy and Standards in Calligraphy: Ann Camp.


With the courses at Digby dedicated to the serious study of calligraphy, the effect on professional standards was dramatic. At that time election to Craft Membership (later Fellowship) of the SSI was acknowledged worldwide as the highest available professional attainment.  Few accomplished it without at least a solid year’s preparation of work to be submitted. From 1977 to 1981 there had been twenty-six candidates yet only ten had been elected. Two had been early students of Ann at Digby, and then for the next ten years she produced a flood of successful candidates. Between 1981 and 1991 there were 29 candidates, and of the 20 elected, fifteen had been Ann’s students.  Past students of Ann steadily continued to add to the SSI’s Fellowship even as late as 2005 with one who had been at Digby in the late eighties. No candidate of Ann’s failed to be elected.


Although the Digby teaching covered all fields, emphasis was put on the fundamentals. Ann knew that without an understanding of letterform there could be no development, resulting in whatever work that subsequently appeared likely to be hampered with letterforms stuck in the past. Her teaching was a reflection of her own discipline, conveying the essentials without imposing a pattern of work by the teacher that the student was expected to copy. She wrote in 1982:


“A thorough study of one basic script should provide a workable method for studying any other script, or for developing new ones… Like all arts which are expressions of the culture which produced them, it (calligraphy) must go on evolving and developing; if it does not, it is in danger of becoming fossilised or merely archaic. For social and technological reasons, even conventional letterforms are subject to subtle changes in design…”

SSI Newsletter 24. Spring 1982


She made the distinction between students who had come to be taught and students who had come to learn, acknowledging that she responded especially to the latter and was able to take them further than those who had come passively expecting to be taught.  Such was her reputation that she drew people from all over the world.  Many of the world’s leading calligraphers, letterers and letter designers would be educated there. On one occasion a graphic designer flew all the way from Australia just for an interview. She was given a place, and subsequently became a Fellow. A number of Ann’s students went on to teach at Roehampton and the course continued in various forms for around thirty years.


Although in public Ann diplomatically stated that ill health forced her to retire in 1990, the truth was that the college refused to employ her beyond her 65th birthday. She felt great sadness at having to cease what she regarded as the one thing in her life that she was proud of and she was deeply reluctant to go.  She had always wanted children but after surgery was unable to have any and felt therefore she could not marry. So she stayed at home to support ageing parents and we, her students, became her children. Quoting from a letter about one of her students:  “Although he is in many ways surprisingly mature for his years, he is still very young. I HOPE he doesn’t miss his own age group at Digby. I have been most impressed with him and his work.  For me this year has been a very rewarding one. I realise how fortunate I am in the kinds of people who come to Digby. It makes one feel awfully humble.” In treating us afterwards not as former students but as equals, we treasured her continued conversations at an intellectual level that had commenced ten or twenty years before.  


Ann herself was elected Craft Member of the SSI in 1946 and became a fearless defender of professional standards. She long warned us that any passing of responsibility away from the elected body would lead inexorably to an ending of the professional standing of the Society. This was not a popular view, but Ann was as firm with her closest friends over any aspect of integrity as she was with any others who opposed her.


Primarily Ann will be remembered as a teacher who, to use her own words, helped “people to become more fully what they really are instead of teaching them to be what they are not.” It was only later in her life that I saw photographs of her commercial work and I, who had developed a strong interest in drawn and painted letters, discovered that this had long been an area of an amazing expertise which she had kept hidden from me.


When I visited Ann in her back room overlooking the garden after she retired, she would be sitting in her chair surrounded by apparently random and haphazard piles of books. As we talked it became apparent that they were in an order very particular to her reading of the time and what she wanted to say as relevant to me and my work. For as long as her mind allowed, she continued to challenge the thinking about calligraphy and to question and explore the nature of work and life. One of my fellow students, in describing her year at Digby, said: “… I thought I would get a good grounding in the foundations of hand-lettering. What I was completely unprepared for was a course in enlightenment, by which I mean the fundamentals of what makes a meaningful life as reflected in choices one makes… [Wendy Cook].


Written by Sue Hufton, FSSI 

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