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By Shirley Wineberg, April 2003

Shirley Wineberg:You are a most admired member, a past president of San Diego Fellow Calligraphers, an outstanding calligrapher, the Grande Dame of SDFC. How fortunate for us. Your history is so unique - how did calligraphy enter your life? Tell us your beginnings, your studies.

Lisabet Wilson: Some time after the Second World War was over, we heard from my father’s two sisters, who had left Germany in the 1930’s and were living in the USA since that time. Both of them sent us packages with food, which was always cause for celebration!

Then, one of these aunts, who lived in Chicago, wrote to my father that she and her husband were willing to sponsor two of his girls to come to the United States. My parents liked the idea since the economy in Germany seemed so hopeless. The application for my visa was made.

I was seventeen at that time. My parents were very concerned that I did not have a marketable skill which would provide an income. “What would you like to learn?” was the big question. I certainly did not want to be a fine artist like my dad. I wanted a regular income. But I enjoyed the art world and hoped to become a commercial artist.

The closest city which had an arts and crafts school was Hannover, which was an hour’s train ride away from where we lived. There I applied for admission, passed the entry exam, and was accepted. It soon became apparent that I enjoyed the calligraphy class the most. My teacher was Friedrich Heinrichsen, who was trained by Rudolf Koch, one of Germany’s most influential calligraphers and designers. We practiced on large sheets of paper. Different styles had to be mastered. Decorative initials had to be designed. Sometimes, the teacher sat down next to me and helped out.

Soon I was getting actual jobs to do. The first assignment came from the art store where I bought my supplies. They requested price tags and other little signs. Then a larger store needed signs. After that, a butcher shop wanted me to letter the daily specials on big window panes. That activity drew lots of comments from people passing by. I was glad when I did not have to do it any more!

It was more fun to letter quotes and poems for people. Also, the business community in Hannover often contacted the art school for specific needs. We got to do posters for the Opera House, title pages for architects, tombstone designs, and many logos. For most of my work I got paid. I could now support myself. My first steady flow of income came from the Chamber of Commerce. I filled in the names and dates on their certificates.

In 1951, my name was reached on the quota list, and I got a boat ticket to America. I sailed right after my 19th birthday. My father had gone with me to Paris. From there I took a bus to Le Havre. There was the big boat!

The day after I arrived in Chicago, my aunt took me to a factory and asked if they would hire me. They did—for 92 cents per hour. The work was so boring. The days seemed endless. We had to inspect decals of marble and mahogany all day. It was the only time in my life that I was a clock watcher.

After several months, my other aunt came to the rescue. She told me to bring my art samples and meet her the next Saturday in downtown Chicago. She was all dressed up. We introduced ourselves to the art director at Bielefeld Studios, in the Pure Oil Building, 34th Floor, on Wacker Drive. The man liked my work and wanted me to start working there right away. I was so excited. It meant a big jump in income, too. Now I could do artwork again! I was one of three lettering artists. They were doing brush lettering. I had no experience with brush lettering. I had good control over a steel nib, but that was of little help. I had to learn something new. One of the other lettering men helped me during his lunch hour until I caught on. I also had to learn how to put whole ads together ‘til they were ready for the printer. It was lots of fun to work in the art department. The co-workers were my family, and we were a happy group. I spent five years in Chicago.

In the meantime, my whole family had arrived from Germany. They found it very hard to tolerate the extreme temperatures in Chicago. Then someone gave them a National Geographic magazine. In it was an article on La Jolla, California. It was described as the “Jewel at the Pacific Ocean”, where rich and poor lived happily side by side. It was an artist’s paradise, where the colorful houses, magnificent palm trees, and many beautiful flowers provided an ideal background for the interesting coastline and blue waters of the Pacific.

My parents and the two youngest children packed their bags and took a train to San Diego. They sent good reports back to Chicago. We older children decided to follow them, one by one…until all seven Horchlers were in La Jolla under one roof!

Immediately I went job hunting. Phillips-Ramsey, which was one of the largest advertising agencies in San Diego, hired me for their art department. Wonderful years followed, crowned by finding a husband and becoming “Mrs. Wilson.”

When our fist son was born, I quit my job. The agency did not replace me but continued to send me work on a free-lance basis. Thus my own business was born.

Through the years the influence of the young people became more and more apparent as I was trying to execute their layouts of lettering and graphic designs. It was my good fortune that there has been a great interest in and appreciation for calligraphy, as is reflected in the amount of work I have gotten along that line.

Each period of my career was special. When I first started to freelance in September of 1959, my main income came from a steady flow of certificates from companies like Solar and General Dynamics. Eventually, most certificates were done by computer.

This was followed by years of doing mainly logos. In the seventies, I was asked to teach by several colleges, since there was so much demand for calligraphy.

Later, my best client was a greeting card company in Oregon. The president of the company came to San Diego to meet me. After that, all business was done by mail.

All these different tasks became learning experiences for me and greatly enriched my life.

Commercial art and specializing in calligraphy was the right choice for me. It was always an interesting challenge. It provided me with an income and enabled me to be at home while raising our two sons.

I look back over the years with a very grateful heart.

SW: Besides the Gothic hand, have you another favorite?

LW: Italics is my other favorite style.

SW: What are you involved in creatively at the moment?

LW: My current work consists mainly of doing greeting cards, some work for UCSD, and lettering on mats for several framers around town.

SW: You have reached so many goals, are there any more you wish for?

LW: My goal remains to do my best, whatever comes my way

SW: Are there any comments or advice you wish to make?

LW: I am happy to be part of SDFC. It’s is fun to see what others are doing and to have friends who share the same interests.

NOTE: Lisabet is featured in A Look at the History of Calligraphy, The Art of the Written Word, a 28-minute documentary on the history of calligraphy produced by her son, Carl. You can preview a portion of the video by going to his website by clicking here.

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