Brian Gordon Walker was born in 1938, in South Yorkshire, England. He was an Artist, a Calligrapher and the first European Master Penman to be inducted in The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH) at the time, one of only 12 Master Penman in the world.
He had a professional career in education, starting as a middle school teacher of arts and crafts, including ceramics, and progressing to deputy head teacher and subsequently head teacher at two different local schools.
Brian’s creativity was greatly influenced by his background of art, craftsmanship, lettering and a love of nature, natural shapes and structures. All of these, merged with life’s visual and emotional experiences contributed to his works of art. He was also influenced by great artists, in particular, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso.
Brian quoted in one of his publications, ‘I love the rhythm and movement of cursive writing. I enjoy the sensuality of traditional tools and materials but I am not precious about them. I like fine detail and elaboration, geometry, the subtlety of colour, sharp contrast and the pattern of repetitive forms. Nature and the environment are often my prime sources of inspiration. I try to conceive each piece as something having its own presence in the world, an object in its own right like a beautiful seashell on the beach or a pure white seagull feather on the top of Bempton Cliffs’.
Brian never limited himself to one particular writing style but preferred to constantly experiment and push the boundaries, becoming a master of different scripts. He believed that ‘all styles have their merits and enjoyment and the skills of one often rub off on the other’. He enjoyed exploring.
He had two preferred quotes that resonated with his vision and creative mindset and resembled his persona. Brian had the eye of an eagle, he was a creative thinker and had exceptional skill.
First of all you prove that something is IMPOSSIBLE, Then show how it can be done.Barnes Wallis
You think of things as they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?George Bernard Shaw
Brian G. Walker grew up during World War II with his very practical Scottish mother, whom he loved dearly, whilst his father was away serving in the army in the Middle East. As a child, he was forever drawing and never wanted to do anything else but art.
His enthusiasm for calligraphy began at the age of 11 at Brampton Ellis Secondary Modern School, where during an art lesson the class was introduced to edged pen lettering. He loved it and this was the start of what became a lifelong passion. That was in 1949 and he kept a pen in his hand from this moment forward. It was his father who inspired and encouraged Brian to practice good handwriting and his school reports rapidly progressed from ‘Rather messy, needs improvement’ to ‘A most neat and careful hand’.
He was always grateful for having failed his 11+ exam! Had he passed, he would have gone to grammar school and probably never done calligraphy at all. He once said, ‘I can easily identify a series of life’s threads that connected at the right time to guide me on a certain path’.
It was around 1953, that Brian started to carry out small calligraphic commissions both for the school and the local church, where a seed was planted one day in the early 1940’s after choir practice. The Reverend Leslie Suggitt, entrusted Brian with three hard backed maths books covered in marbled paper, dating back to the early 1860’s. On opening the larger book, Brian found it to be a copybook written in neat Copperplate! Looking back, it struck Brian that even way back then he must have been interested in handwriting enough to want to keep those books.
There were many related factors that influenced what he did calligraphically. There were seven collieries within a five mile radius of his home, but between the pit villages were fields, woods and streams and a wealth of nature, where he spent many hours exploring. His deep love of nature and the environment always played a significant part in his work and were his prime source of inspiration.
In 1955, Brian went on to study ‘A’ level Art at Barnsley School of Art, focusing on lettering and the history of architecture. He worked on calligraphy projects alongside students studying for the National Diploma in Design including Ashley Jackson, Yorkshire watercolour artist. He was tutored by the late William (Bill) F. Gothard, who was an inspirational teacher and through him, his calligraphy developed. Brian adopted italic as his regular hand and further developed his skill by studying old manuscripts. It was Brian’s opinion that study and practice should be properly continued and he never stopped learning. It was through this philosophy that Brian’s handwriting became distinctive.
It was also in 1955 that Brian read an article on italic by Geoffrey Ebbage in the magazine ‘Picture Post‘. Geoffrey was the Treasurer of the Society for Italic Handwriting (SIH) at the time. Brian wrote to Picture Post expressing his interest in the article and they kindly passed on his letter. Geoffrey replied almost immediately and Brian joined the SIH as a result, only 3 years after the Society had been formed.
His father encouragingly paid his first subscriptions, which at the time, were five shillings a year (25p). He won the annual SIH competition in 1972, and went on to become one of the societies longest standing active members – 63 years – giving occasional presentations and writing articles for the Society’s publication, ‘Writing Matters‘.
He took a break from studying in 1956 to carry out National Service in the Royal Air Force and was stationed in Jever, Germany. He was very proud of his years in service.
Brian attended teacher training at the College of the Venerable Bede Durham in 1958, where he received a Distinction in Art (specialising in arts and related crafts including ceramics) and a Commendation in the Theory of Education. It is interesting to know that the external moderator was John Nash, the brother of the English surrealist painter Paul Nash. Brian’s final thesis entitled ‘The Second R‘, was based on ideas relating to the teaching of handwriting in schools.
Brian G. Walker began his specialist art teaching career in 1960, interestingly at the same secondary school where he had been a pupil. At that time a strong art college movement had emerged. Its aim was to necessitate change in art education by providing a clear and definite focus on visual literacy through the use of colour, the establishment of form and the construction of space. Several books were written on the subject for schools such as ‘A Basic Course in Art’ by L. W. Lawley. Brian was fortunate enough to spend a valuable year at Leeds College of Art, in 1966, and experienced The Basic Course at first hand. Much of what he learned at that time exerted a powerful influence on what he did artistically.
From 1965 to 1967, Brian became Scenic Director of the South Yorkshire Theatre for Youth. During this time he created numerous stage set designs and developed a love for making props, which he did for various stage performances.
In 1968, Brian was appointed Head of Art and Design at the very first purpose built middle school in the UK – Milefield Middle School, South Yorkshire – but went on to study for an Advanced Diploma in Education at Sheffield University and became deputy head teacher years later. He initially introduced Italic as an after school activity for a group of 15 year old pupils. Brian was later recognised for having helped pioneer middle year education by introducing a whole school Italic handwriting policy, which was linked to the school language and literature programme. He was committed to encouraging colleagues to seeing Italic as a viable tool of expression in many areas of learning and he further continued this endeavour when he was appointed as head teacher at another school in Yorkshire. Brian felt privileged to have taught arts and crafts as a specialised subject with its rich and varied rewards.
Brian joined the Society of Scribes and Illuminators (SSI) as a lay member in 1972. He was accepted on to the SSI Associate Scheme in 1985 (which became the SSI Advanced Training Scheme) and was elected SSI Fellow in 1989. He was the only SSI Fellow north of Watford and was determined to bring calligraphy to the north of England. His election as SSI Fellow, certainly helped lead the way. His own work, seen at various exhibitions, was known and admired at a local level. Brian’s work later became known nationally, through exhibitions further afield and his work in ‘The Scribe’ magazine brought his name to the forefront of calligraphy. This triggered many people around the UK to contact Brian requesting art commissions, for various occasions and events. Brian continued over the years to carry out an extensive range of commissions until he retired from calligraphy.
In the early 80’s, there were no calligraphy courses in the north of England nor did local groups exist anywhere in this region. Brian started teaching calligraphy at a local evening class at Ackworth in West Yorkshire. Subsequently, Brian organised the very first weekend calligraphy course at Woolley Hall College, near Wakefield. His good friend and fellow calligrapher, Peter Halliday kindly agreed to tutor a ‘Calligraphic Christmas’ and out of that weekend came the spark that set in motion the whole concept of regional calligraphy groups. Brian was instrumental in setting up Calligraphy North, North East Scribes in Stockton-on-Tees, and East Yorkshire Scribes in Bridlington. From then onwards there seemed to be an upsurge in interest. Brian’s advice was sought on how to form a new group, contributing to York Scribes and Pontefract Calligraphers becoming a reality. Later in 1994, Filey Scribes also came into being. Brian became a visiting tutor at most of the groups in Yorkshire and further afield in the UK. Many of these groups and more continue to thrive today.
In 1982, Brian was invited by Osmiroid to become one of the company’s handwriting experts and he visited teachers’ centres and schools throughout the UK, advising teachers on the teaching of handwriting. This part-time work continued for 10 years until Osmiroid became part of Berol Ltd.
Brian organised, together with the Art and English Advisers of the Wakefield Education Authority, a 5 day teachers’ course on ‘Aspects of Language and Literature’ as part of a summer arts workshop in 1983. Brian persuaded Donald Jackson, Scribe to HRH Queen Elizabeth II, to attend, which was an inspirational experience for all involved.
Brian consistently championed good handwriting by example and through his teaching. A dear calligraphy friend, Dot Wilkinson once wrote, ‘Brian taught by example, always willing to give a ‘demo’, and it was wonderful to watch. I remember the first time Brian demonstrated gilding. He literally brought it to life, and everyone was struck by its magnificence. Since then I have been to other workshops on gilding, but none of them stand out in the memory like that one’.
Brian’s organisational skills were legendary, and his classroom was considered a work of art in its own right, with the vast arrangements of natural objects and other inspirational artefacts, which he would meticulously set out together with samples of his work. As a teacher, Brian was outstanding. His attention to detail was in a class of its own and his patience was phenomenal. In fellow scribe Paul Antonio’s words, ‘Brian had an unending desire not just to help others but to encourage them to raise the bar on their skill level’.
Alongside a lifelong love of calligraphy and handwriting there was his parallel professional career of teaching – more than 30 years! It was in 1987, Brian won the National Head Teachers’ Good Handwriting Competition, having been encouraged by his school pupils to enter. As he accepted his prize – a two weeks Swan Hellenic cruise around the Mediterranean – he jokingly stated ‘good handwriting pays off’.
Taking early retirement in 1991, Brian G. Walker was able to devote more professional time to penmanship. In his words, ‘simply doing my own thing and enjoying the freedom of creating new images with not so new materials’. Major work included certificates for the 1993 European Swimming Championships in Sheffield, the commemorative plaque (etched in copper) for the new extensions at Leeds City Art Gallery, a Deed of Affiliation between the Honourable Company of Cutlers and the new HMS Sheffield and a facsimile copy for Sheffield Cathedral of the Church Burgesses Charter signed by Queen Mary I and dated 1554. There were 4,000 words in Latin on the original charter written no more than 1/16 inch in x-height. Understandably, this commission took a steady six months to complete. However, most of what Brian did was personal rather than formal.
In 1994, Brian was invited to be a founding Fellow of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society (CLAS) and to be its first Regional Officer. He was one of the twelve founder members of CLAS and supported the society wholeheartedly. He also served as part of the CLAS Academic Standards Board for a time. He was involved in the formation and examining of the National Diploma and co-examiner of the CLAS Teacher Accreditation Scheme. Former CLAS Chairman, Peter Halliday said, ‘Brian was a such an enthusiastic founder of CLAS and a supporter of the Diploma. His help and advice and his educational expertise was vital in the formation of the Diploma and the setting up of CLAS as an educational charity’. The regional aspect was particularly memorable to Brian in having close contact with calligraphy groups throughout the UK, teaching workshops and jointly organising seven successful CLAS annual regional events. Brian’s interest in Copperplate was rekindled when Jim Linwood’s Copperplate Special Interest Group was formed in 1995, under the CLAS umbrella.
Throughout his calligraphic journey, Brian exhibited his work at numerous museums in the Yorkshire region, particularly the York Archaeological Trust’s Jorvik Viking Festival and the Captain Cook Museum in Whitby, during the visit of HM Bark Endeavour. He hosted various exhibitions at the Ruskin Gallery – Sheffield, Cusworth Hall Museum – Doncaster and The Ark, Kirkburton – Huddersfield. He had publications in ‘The Times‘ and ‘The Yorkshire Post’ newspapers and appeared on ‘Look North TV‘ and on ‘Radio 4‘.
Brian was the author of many art and calligraphic articles in the UK for ‘The Edge‘ (CLAS), ‘The Scribe’ (SSI) and ‘Writing Matters‘ (SIH) amongst others. He also wrote additional articles for various penman associations around the world, some of which were translated into different languages (Japanese and Dutch).
It was between 1997 and 1998 that Brian discovered Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship, a prolific period of American Penmanship spanning approximately seventy five years from 1850 to 1925. Many calligraphy books never mention this period of incredible penmanship skill, but it is of interest in the historical context of the lettering arts and Brian was fascinated!
At a Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society meeting one evening in London a book was passed around the table; a leaving present for the retiring treasurer. Inside the pages was handwriting Brian had never seen the likes of before. That book was Michael Sull’s Volume II. Having had a lifelong interest in Italic handwriting as well as in broad edged calligraphy, the sheer simplicity and natural beauty of Spencerian Script and the breathtaking skill of its artistic cousin, Ornamental Penmanship, struck Brian forcibly. He was determined to learn this hand. That very same week, he acquired his own copy of Volume II and later, Volume I – the rest is history!
During this time, Brian developed his own secret ink recipe and Walker’s Copperplate Ink was born. He initially made the ink for his own personal use as he couldn’t find an ink that he felt was good enough to do what he wanted to do. He spent hours and hours, mixing ingredients until he considered it to be perfect. But ink wasn’t the only unique recipe he created! He had various other perfect solutions with secret additions for gesso and the perfect white ink, to name a few.
Brian immersed himself in his Spencerian studies acquiring, sometimes on long term loan from his good American friends Nick D’Aquanno, Don Tate and Joseph Vitolo, unique historic manuscripts and samples from the Masters. He would study and understand the core principals of individual styles, adapt them in their basic form, practise and practise until he reached perfection and then add his own twist. Despite Spencerian being a completely new script to Brian, he soon became known across the sea for his skilful penmanship, signature fine hairlines and delicate script. As he once explained to friend and colleague Joy Daniels, ‘Ornamental Penmanship was like the kiss of a butterfly, it required the lightest of touch’.
In the year 2000, Brian G. Walker joined the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting IAMPETH (USA). Spencerian Script and its related hands became his main preoccupation and he believed wholeheartedly in its philosophy. In Brian’s words ‘Spencer’s legacy isn’t simply about handwriting. It is certainly about the man, his life, his work and family, but it is also about an equally fascinating, creative and inspiring period of American history worthy of study in itself. It is about the legendary Master Penmen who followed in Spencer’s footsteps, about their lives and personalities and the amazingly skilful penmanship they so effortlessly seemed to produce – a challenge to those of us involved in the calligraphic arts today. On a different level, it is about deep friendships carefully nurtured, of being in touch with like-minded folk sharing a common interest and of keeping alive the wonderful handwriting that ‘grew’ more than 150 years ago from a small log cabin school in Geneva, Ohio’.
Many calligraphy books never mention this period of incredible penmanship skill, however it is of interest in the historical context of the lettering arts. This is what prompted Brian to create his very own Spencerian Study Group. With the help and support of accomplished Copperplater, the late Rita Blood, the group was formed in 2000. Meetings were held in the City of York with initially fifteen enthusiastic members. At the time, Brian was the only promoter of Spencerian in the UK. Friendly links were created between the Study Group and enthusiasts in the United States via the internet. Friendly links were also made with the Copperplate Special Interest Group in the UK.
In June 2003, at a ceremony in Columbus Ohio, Brian was inducted into the IAMPETH Master Penman fraternity, which he considered to be a wonderful 65th birthday surprise. He was the first Master Penman outside of the USA and is still considered today to be one of the world’s finest Spencerian penmen.
Another key milestone in Brian’s calligraphy career was the Leonardt Extra Fine Principal Nib. Brian wanted to create something that was equal in quality and performance to many vintage nibs used a century ago. At the time no-one seemed at all interested until he approached Nick Stockbridge, of Leonardt & Co Ltd and Manuscript Pens Ltd. Calligrapher Nick D’Aquanno from Philadelphia, who was involved in the initial discussion with Brian on this initiative, said, ‘Brian did so many things well, to my mind one of his greatest contributions was the creation of the Principal nib. It is present on nearly, if not all the continents of the earth. From Russia, to China, Alaska, Europe, Middle East, et al… We worked over a year on getting that tool produced. His persistence with the people at Leonardt was incredible. And the calligraphy/penman world will benefit from the labor’.
The sequel to this story happened in 2007 when Brian approached Nick Stockbridge again to ask about the possibility of having his own personalised ‘imprint’ nibs as was the case in the past.
Brian received his first batch of Walker Fine Writers, named after, and in honour of, the Zanerian Fine Writer. His surname and a ‘W’ logo were imprinted on each nib. Brian’s signature nib is as near to the Principality as it is possible to achieve today using a combination of technology and the few remaining old hand methods. Due to the high quantities required for production, Brian only placed a minimal order.
It was in August 2011, that the Spencerian Study Group transformed into a postal group called The Spencerian Review. Avid historian of the golden age of American Ornamental Penmanship, Dr Joseph M. Vitolo once wrote, ‘An historically important point is that Brian bridged an important gap between the formal traditional broad pen work in England/Europe and the pointed pen scripts (Spencerian) in the US’. Brian’s study group boasted overall more than ninety members worldwide, including many members of the Japanese Penmanship Association, of which Brian was an honorary member.
Brian’s aim was to promote the appreciation, understanding, study and practise of Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship as well as other aspects of the ‘Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship’; which was first inspired by Platt Rogers Spencer and subsequently after his death in 1864, continued by his sons and two daughters. He collected rare items of original penmanship and willingly and trustingly loaned these for study purposes to his UK members of his group through a loan scheme. On one particular occasion, Brian loaned five of Earl A. Lupfer’s original signature cards. His members said it was a privilege to have had the opportunity of holding them in their hands, seeing the real thing rather than a photocopy.
Brian once described his experience of the Group as not only been about promoting the joys and skills of American penmanship; learning about that period of American history and the lives of those talented old timers, but along the way, the building of many close friendships across the world. Friendships he treasured! Even though Brian never had the chance to meet some of the people in person nor speak with everyone he corresponded with on the telephone, he had a high regarded and affection for them and was a generous and inspirational mentor.
He was an avid letter writer and corresponded with, and tutored many people near and far. It will not come as a surprise that one of his practice examples written in ornamental penmanship carries the quote, ‘The exchange of letters captures nuances of shared thought and feeling to which their electronic replacements cannot do justice’. He saved and treasured many of the letters he received over the years, and it is a wonderful tribute for the family to have an amazing collection of the most beautiful envelopes addressed to Brian G. Walker, many of which were part of the Envelope Exchange initiative.
After years of dedication, Brian decided to step away from mainstream calligraphy to spend more time with his family and focus his attention to producing personal pieces of artwork for his own pleasure and his private collections. Nevertheless, he continued to correspond and share his knowledge with friends around the world.
After a short illness, Brian G. Walker sadly passed away on 12 July 2018. He is not only remembered globally for his exquisite penmanship but for being a true gentleman and an inspiration to hundreds of people. As calligraphic artist, Heather Victoria Held once wrote ‘He was a valued and important friend as well as a mentor’.
Brian’s expertise and memory was further recognised across the ocean by IAMPETH in 2019, when he was unanimously nominated to be inducted in the IAMPETH Book of Honor by the Board of Directors. At the time IAMPETH had only elected 20 members in seventy years and Brian Walker was one of them. The Walker Grant was also introduced as was the CLAS Brian Walker Prize and the SIH’s Brian Walker Italic Handwriting Award.
Having dedicated a lifetime with pen in hand, it is not surprising that some of Brian’s last words in his final hour were ‘The Dance of the Pen’.
The content of this biography has been compiled from a series of articles written by Brian G. Walker over the years and therefore, uses his writing style and own language in the majority of the text. It also includes content from family recollections and records, and information from close friends of Brian from the calligraphy community.
To hear more about Brian’s life, please see the Spotlight video of daughter Sarah with The European Pointed Pen Collective.
If you corresponded with or were mentored by Brian Walker, or if you would like to comment on his work or post a written tribute on the site, please get in touch. The Walker Family would love to hear from you.