Writing up a storm at Sycamore Shoals Monday

Published 8:33 am Friday, April 12, 2019

Penmanship, while still a part of many schools, is often considered secondary to the instantaneous communication forms people use every day. In spite of this, in many cases, there are still lessons to be learned in studying handwriting and communication forms of the past.

Sycamore Shoals State Park is hosting a Quill Pen Making and Writing class this Monday, April 15, a chance to see how people in the 1800’s communicated with far away people.

Museum Curatorial Assistant Chad Bogart said this is the second time he will be hosting a class like this, and the first time he did it, last August, it was popular.

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“It filled up fast,” Bogart said.

The class highlights the ways penmanship used to work more than a century ago when pens and even modern forms of paper were not a thing.

“The Chinese used bamboo [for their quills], and feathers have been used for almost a thousand years,” he said.

Beyond the state park’s dedication to showcasing history and the ways of life people lived back then, he said he wants to give participants an appreciation for how much technology has changed our lives. Back then, handwriting was not just a standard, but in many ways an art form.

“We will also be talking about how the mail service used to work,” Bogart said. “Now, you pay when you send the letter, but back then, you paid upon receiving the letter.”

He pointed to the Declaration of Independence as part of his explanation. Though the words on it are Thomas Jefferson’s, the parchment and handwriting are not his. Rather, Timothy Matlack was the one who actually penned the document.

To people reading it now, the wording and writing style can take some getting used to, but Bogart said a lot of that comes from the ease of communication we have now.

“When you type something, you do not think about it as much,” Bogart said. “Back then, you chose your words more carefully.”

He quoted a scene in the beginning of the first National Treasure movie.

“People do not talk that way anymore,” he said.

The class will take place Monday, April 15, at 11 a.m. Bogart said there are currently five more slots available. Those interested can call the park at 423-543-5808. Those 15 years or younger must have adult accompaniment, as they will be using sharp blades to cut the quills.