Facts of the Job
Job Title: White House Chief Calligrapher
Average Pay: $96,725
Qualification/Experience Needed: Degree in Fine Arts, 15+ years of professional calligraphy experience, recognition from the International Association of Master Penmen preferable
At the end of writing a Christmas card have you ever looked down at your finished masterpiece and thought, “Y’know what? That right there is penmanship fit for a King”? Well this might be the job for you (but probably not).
The White House Graphics and Calligraphy Office is situated in the East Wing and, as a body, is responsible for every aspect of every piece of design which comes out of the White House. The calligraphers have been there, hand writing invitations, since John Adams’ time in the Oval Office (the 2nd President of the United States for the Brits in the audience). Back then, until only the last 60 years or so, the calligraphers were the main source of graphical output the White House could really have – letterpresses could only do so much. Today though, the three calligraphers working at one of the most powerful addresses in the world still provide the much needed, handmade elegance that a computer simply can’t produce.
Their day consists of devising and producing the design of the calligraphy for everything from invitations and place cards for heads of state to programmes and menus for White House events. Take a big event like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner for example. Important guests from all over the country will have to receive invitations, there will be a meal which will require a menu for every table, specific seating on those tables indicated by place cards and a programs of the timings and events throughout the night for each individual, all of which the three calligraphers will have a hand in designing and making. With hundreds of people in attendance for such an event, you can see how the workload quickly racks up.
It’s not just the standard 9 to 5 either. On certain occasions later in the evening, a calligrapher will have to be on call just in case of emergencies, like there’s an unexpected last minute arrival or change to the evenings proceedings.
Responsibilities and Duties
The Chief Calligrapher firstly has their own calligraphy duties to take care of. As I said before, this includes individual invitations and place cards for every guest at an event, menus, programmes, thank you letters, letters of respect to fallen servicemen and women, greetings, commissions, awards, appointments, proclamations and more. The nature of this sort of work also means that there’s a lot of repeating the same design over and over again but just changing the name of the recipient. All of this has to be to an incredibly high standard, produced in a relatively short amount of time, usually only a few hours.
This on it’s own requires patience, care, time management, attention to detail, critical thinking and an impeccable eye for design. On top of that they’ve got two other calligraphers to help direct and coordinate.
Different styles for different occasions may also be requested, so it’s not just a case of falling into a routine of repeating the same thing over and over again; the Chief Calligrapher is expected to be incredibly versatile and malleable, able to switch up typefaces and letter forms when required.
Should you become the White House Chief Calligrapher?
If you’re reading this and you don’t already have a MASSIVE interest in calligraphy, then I’m going to give you the short answer which is no. The Chief Calligrapher before the current one, Rick Paulus, started calligraphy when he was 12, just to give you an idea of the sort of life-long love for calligraphy this role generally requires.
Even if you’re absolutely obsessed with calligraphy, if every birthday and Christmas your friends and family look forward with unencumbered joy to receiving a card from your graceful hand, getting this job’s still going to be crazy hard.
Patricia Blair, the current Chief Calligrapher for the White House, has a long list of calligraphy-related titles to her name:
- published in Letter Arts Review and Martha Stewart Weddings
- has been on the faculty of the 21st International Calligraphy Conference
- past president of the Washington Calligraphers Guild
- was co-director of Letterforum, at the 26th International Calligraphy Conference
- in 2005 was awarded the honor “Master Penman” by the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting
That’s a fair amount of calligraphy-credibility she had to rack up before taking the role of highest calligrapher in the land. This isn’t a hobby or even a passion for the calligraphers in the White House, this is their life.
So if calligraphy is your life and the idea of making up to 19,000 invitations in a month (November is their busiest) sounds like a dream come true, then you’re in luck; looks like being the White House Chief Calligrapher is the job for you!