Stone Lettering


Catich slates






Father Catich was a consultant for many large corporations. He wrote the following piece, which was printed in 1967 by Mohawk Paper Mills, as a handout that he would give to anyone that attended his calligraphy workshops. More detailed information on this groundbreaking ‘theory’ can be found in his book “Origin of the Serif” which was printed by his very own Catfish Press:
 A certain “lost art” nostalgia surrounds the craft expressions notably mosaic, stained glass and stone lettering. The stone letterer is almost extinct today since such lettering whether on buildings or headstones is done mostly by sandblasting techniques. If we add recent eulogistic writings about Roman inscriptional letters we can understand why this letter craft has taken on the halo of a lost art thus elevated out of its proper craft area into the more refined emotionalism of the fine arts.
In the Imperial Roman era there was considerable building therefore much carving and lettering in stone. In that age the stone letterer was not a “fine” artist. Rather he was reckoned simply as another craftsman little different from today’s skilled worker, say, the bookbinder, plumber or cabinet worker. Indeed the best counterpart for the lettering segment of the Roman craft of lapidarius or marmorarius is the contemporary skill of commercial sign writing & lettering.
The chief obstacle to understanding ancient letter-making has been the “external-accidental” method which emphasizes externals, visible accidentals, secondary causes, beauty, shapes and proportions of letters. This method, though quite valuable for its purpose, is unable to uncover the far more important causative factors, the hidden, internal dynamics and manipulative kinetics of Imperial letter-making ~ those substantive influences that make Roman letters what they are.
If we are to reconstruct the formal, efficient and material causality of Imperial writing and lettering on stone we should examine that ancient craft from the viewpoint of our own currently vital sign-writing knowledge and skill. The subject is too broad to be squeezed into a short statement but, summarized, the chief conclusions from this sign-writing viewpoint are:
1)      The Imperial stone letterer was the craft brother of today’s sign-writer;
2)      The instrumental cause of Roman stonecut letters was the flat, square-edged brush;
3)      A master sign-writer manipulating such a brush wrote the inscription directly on stone then chiseled what he had written;
4)      “double line” layout, as some contend, was not used, that is, letters were not outlined then filled in;
5)      Serifs and stroke endings are not the product of chisel-handling and glyptic influences, rather they were the result of skillful but natural behavior of the brush;
6)      The chisel added nothing to the outlines and shapes of the letters;
7)      The chisel cut only what was written;
8)      It is no more difficult to chisel curved than straight letter parts;
9)      The chisel can cut any shape written by the brush;
10)  The written inscription was the important element and not the cutting;
11)  Cast shadows of chiseled V-cuts did not (as some insist) influence and alter the basic letter shapes made by the brush;
12)  The chisel by sinking the writing below the surface served only to guard the writing from effacement by weathering;
13) After chiseling the letters were repainted with minium to restore the original writing.
E. M. Catich, St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa 52803

One Response to Stone Lettering

  1. What an outstanding resource.
    Thanks, Paul.


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