Graily Hewitt was one of the first students to be taught calligraphy by Edward Johnston at the beginning of the last century and did a great deal to advance the knowledge and practice of gilding using gesso and leaf gold. In fact he wrote the ‘Illumination’ section in Johnston’s book – Writing, Illuminating and Lettering, as well as writing his own book Lettering for Students and Craftsmen, published in 1930. Graily Hewitt taught at both Camberwell School of Art as well as the Central School, continuing at the latter until the 1920s and 1930s.
Graily Hewitt did a great deal, indeed it could be said was crucial, in the revival of gilding on gesso. He wrote out the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam using a different gesso recipe for each page. This was bound into a small volume, and with it he gave details of the recipes and the results in another volume. Both are now in the British Library.
The examples of his work here are the ‘Christmas cards’ he sent to one of his pupils, ‘the Doctor’. Each is written on parchment, sheepskin, and are in black and red only. However most, as with this one on the right, are striking! It is surprising how often something simple is the best solution and black and red work so well together.
These pieces were written by Graily Hewitt in his twilight years – he died aged 88 on 22nd December 1952 – and was writing up until his death. Although the lettering is strong, not all of it, in my view, is totally successful – the ‘h’ and ‘e’ overlap on the right being a case in point. I would suggest that it brings a density to the design which is not balanced elsewhere, although it does avoid a too long line, which may have been the intention.
However, other designs and letter combination are just delightful. The balance of this lightweight cross on the right and the text, resulting in a shield-shape is particularly pleasing.
And the placing of the red dots making a tastefully decorated cross with the tail of the ‘g’, in this piece that I used in my free online newsletter, neatly balances the red letter ‘w’ on the first line. You can also see Graily Hewitt’s neat and legible handwriting at the bottom.
I intend to write more on Graily Hewitt in a future blog and newsletter.