Ideal Projects: Memorials, Signage, House Numbers, Plaques, Decorative Pieces, Wedding Gifts
While traditional letterpress printers are still challenged by the standard of excellence achieved by Gutenberg in the production of his 15th-century Bibles, lettercarvers have been toiling in the long shadow of Trajan’s Column for nearly 2000 years. At the base of this monument built by Emperor Trajan in Rome around 114 AD is the inscription by which, whether merited or not, all others are judged. The enduring charm of these foundational letter forms can be attributed to the influence of a system of geometric proportions that gave classical western architecture its strength and solidity, this beguiling marriage of rectangles, circles, triangles and squares.
The vast majority of contemporary inscriptions, memorial or otherwise, are achieved by sandblasting, an industrial process that sacrifices aesthetic considerations for the sake of speed, cost and uniformity. There is certainly nothing stopping any sandblaster from relying on good letter forms, but since the general consensus is that most people can’t tell the difference anyway, few in the memorial trade bother with a patient study of Roman lettering’s rich history.
The process of lettercarving handed down by the Romans involves the communication between two edged tools: the flat brush and the chisel. What the brush lays down in fluid strokes on paper the chisel renders in three dimensions in stone. Under careful, light, repetitive taps of the mallet, the chisel incises a triangular 90-degree V-cut, where width of stroke equals depth of cut. Depending on the angle of illumination, the interplay of light and shadow will dramatically emphasize certain aspects of the inscription, creating a dazzling effect unmatched by any machine.
To appreciate fully what the process is capable of, one need not go as far as Rome. Instead go to your town’s oldest cemetery. If you live here in New England, chances are the earliest memorials were carved in slate by farmers and masons, albeit with varying degrees of skill. Some were propelled by bold, visionary inspiration while others embraced their grim task with cheerful carelessness. But these lasting memorials trace their artisanal bloodline back to Trajan’s Column and beyond. While no colonial carver could have fathomed the beauty of Imperial Roman capitals, the tools they used, the mallet and chisel, were the same as those used by classical craftsmen who enshrined Roman authority in stone. Thus they are the same tools used by Marsolais Press & Lettercarving in the creation of classically informed inscriptions for a modern clientele.