The Hidden Art of Handwritten Letters

In the coming weeks and months we will be reviewing books as part of our blog; books about female friendships and those that deal with handwritten letters, since both topics are integral to our work in progress.

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We will begin with an older book, one published by Edith Schaeffer in 1985. In that year the Marys had not yet met, but both were avid readers and had discovered the joy of writing. It was Mary Kenyon who purchased The Hidden Art of Homemaking at a Christian bookstore, attracted by the subtitle “Ideas for Creating Beauty in Everyday Life,” and the delicate pencil illustrations within. By 1985 Mary K. had nearly abandoned her own habit of sketching everything in sight. One too many poorly done attempts at drawing her firstborn son had turned her away from one craft and towards another. Her delight with essay portions of college exams led her to believe she might just have a talent for writing, despite the solid “C” grade she received in the single college level writing course she took. She has a file of “A” graded term papers and illustrated (yes, illustrated!) essays that prove otherwise. Though she is now horrified that she dared to draw delicate flowers on more than one cover page of her college essays, she can confidently lay blame on the influence of Schaeffer’s words. It was her book that first planted the idea of combining writing with sketching of some sort:

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“You are writing a letter to a friend, your fiancee, your husband or wife, your children…but as you express yourself or your mood better with a sketch than in words, you sketch at the top of the page, or intersperse writing with sketches. They can be beautiful, serious or amusing. You have made the letter more interesting and more communicative. But you have also enjoyed yourself and stimulated your own imagination in the doing of it. Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas.” (page 49)

So Mary K’s sketches on the cover page of her college essays, while not recommended by either Mary now, were a product of her stimulated imagination and creativity, appreciated by her Psychology professors for some obscure reason. But it was Schaeffer’s viewpoint on letter-writing that resonated most with Mary K:

“What can you write? Letters could well come first of all. We all have someone waiting for a letter, and each of us has someone thinking about him or her and wishing the mail would bring some sort of word, some message. ..Write now. Communicate with someone now. Start by writing a letter to one person, and continue by writing to others who are waiting for a letter.” (page 136)

These words still apply to letter-writing. The idea of a handwritten letter is not old-fashioned, and neither is the main topic of Schaeffer’s book. Both Marys believe that each of us is born with some inherent talent. In fact, Mary K. has done many presentations on “Utilizing Your Creativity in Your Everyday Life” for women’s and young mother’s groups.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking continues to have merit for readers today. It could be argued, however, that as a new wife and young mother, Mary K might have spent more time on other chapters of Schaeffer’s book, considering topics such as “Interior Decoration,” “Flower Arrangements,” “Food,” “Creative Recreation,” “Gardens and Gardening,” and “Music.”  We are sure her eight children would have at least appreciated more attention to the “food” and “creative recreation” chapters.

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