Oxford Scribes was formed in 1984 by a small group of dedicated Oxfordshire calligraphers led by Isabelle Spencer. They were keen to provide locally the sort of activities which were then only available in London: regular exhibitions, talks, and especially calligraphy workshops with distinguished tutors from the Society of Scribes and Illuminators. These aims were very quickly realised, largely thanks to the ability of one member to procure local meeting-rooms free of charge.
Oxford Scribes was possibly the first regional calligraphy group in the UK, and it tapped into a then widespread public interest in calligraphy. The new society rapidly grew in numbers, reputation and scope, serving the interests of professionals and amateurs alike. A newsletter, a programme of visits and a resource centre were introduced. Commissions arrived from various quarters and were fulfilled by teams of members: a set of framed poems for a local inn, a banner for a museum, a large Book of Benefactors for an abbey, calligraphy on the walls and bookcases at Oxfordshire Record Office, and the complete set of Shakespeare sonnets for a private collector. Meanwhile meetings and workshops were flourishing, and the programme of exhibitions was expanding within and outside the county.
There have been other notable projects. In 1990-91 Oxford Scribes ran an influential training course for calligraphy teachers – a pilot scheme funded by Southern Arts to meet a widespread demand for more and better calligraphy evening classes, following a request from the Crafts Council. From 2006 to 2011 our exhibition of Psalms in 23 languages travelled to various venues including two cathedrals and two synagogues, and was featured on BBC radio and website. In 2009 we produced a book and travelling exhibition “The Long Tradition” to illustrate the history of calligraphy, and 2013 saw a collaboration with a creative writing group at Radley College. Amongst the celebrations of our 30th anniversary was a special exhibition featuring work by both past and present members.
Oxford Scribes has long-standing links with some other institutions: The Calligraphy & Lettering Arts Society (CLAS) since its inception in 1994; Oxfordshire SANDS group for bereaved parents – since 1996 we’ve been maintaining their Remembrance Book; the UK Fine Press Book Fair since 1997 – we later became regular exhibitors there.
Workshops, exhibitions and talks have remained our core activities throughout the changes brought about since our foundation, and our aim remains “to promote and foster interest and education in the practice of calligraphy and allied crafts.” Our Newsletters, website, visits, and calligraphy demonstrations or “have a go” sessions at public events are also geared to this aim.