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Wit and wisdom: Calligrapher pairs ‘Dr. Who’ quotes with vibrant watercolor paintings

Calligrapher Anne Kaese works Sept. 9 in her home studio in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – Anne Kaese’s handwriting is ordinary.

But her calligraphy is art.

The 49-year-old Fargo woman who owns Anne Kaese Calligraphy started practicing the heritage art when she was 12.

“I really enjoyed the contrast of thick and thin and light and dark. I like the patterning, and I liked how it kind of got busy and quiet and happy and sad. I got addicted,” Kaese says.

And about her handwriting – although she swears it’s barely legible, it doesn’t matter.

Handwriting has nothing to do with calligraphy, Kaese says.

“They’re two separate things. The fact that we’re creating words is coincidental. Calligraphy is more like architecture or construction. You break everything down into strokes and then you build it all up,” she says. “To me, it’s like Legos. However you put them together dictates what the final form is going to be like.”

Her most recent exhibit, “Who Said What?” combines the wit and wisdom of Doctor Who, the protagonist of BBC’s sci-fi show by the same name.

A Doctor Who quote fashioned by Kaese is the focus of each vibrant watercolor painting, and, of course, a tardis (the Doctor’s time machine) appears in each work.

Unfamiliar with “Doctor Who”? Kaese is certain you’ll still leave her show inspired.

“I think if people slow down and step back, and instead of going, ‘Oh, this comes from a sci-fi kind of weird TV show’ and they just look at the message, it’s profound and fun,” she says. “I think you’ll realize that it’s universal truths for the betterment of humanity. It’s like a fresh voice of spirituality and almost faithfulness to humanity fixing themselves.”

Why’d you choose to incorporate Doctor Who quotes into your watercolor and calligraphy pieces?

I was kind of done with where I’d been and what I was doing.

Arthur (Kaese’s 11-year-old son) said to me, “Let’s do something on Doctor Who.”

I discovered that this character, Doctor Who, was a deeply spiritual person, non-violent, ever-optimistic and fully believing in human potential – just absolute blind faith that with brains and love, we can work out anything.

Arthur and Rebecca (her 13-year-old daughter) gave me the skeleton for the sayings and the thoughts that resonated most with young people. When I looked at them, they were things that really resonated with me.

It’s a nice way of combining traditional watercolor and calligraphy with something that’s very up to date.

Do you have a favorite Doctor Who quote?

“900 years of time and space and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”

Isn’t that an affirmation?

Calligraphy is an old art. Is it becoming popular again?

Calligraphy’s really coming back. When the computer came out in the ’80s, everyone went, “Well, that’s the end of calligraphy because now we have this four-letter word, font.”

For a time, everybody was so enamored with fonts and mass production, because, “Look I have it 17 different ways, I just hit a button.”

But then they realized everybody was doing it. It went from quirky and cute and unique to mass production. We’re seeing the real spin around.

A lot of the brides I work with, people doing bar/bat mitzvahs, 50th wedding anniversaries, baby showers, bridal showers, they’re saying, “How can we make our guests feel special?”

Calligraphy’s become almost performance art because it’s like, “How do we create a unique experience?”

Why do you enjoy creating art with words?

It’s very tactile. It’s almost like baking. I have a bread machine, and I have a KitchenAid mixer with a bread hook. Sometimes I’ll throw dough in the bread machine, but there’s a point in time when I want to take it out and get my hands in it. It’s that kind of feeling.

How long did it take to finish your most time-intensive piece?

I had one piece that took more than 100 hours. It was a smaller piece (about 8 by 10 inches), gilded in 24-karat gold with writing 2 millimeters high. It was a 25th wedding anniversary gift.

Anna G. Larson

Anna G. Larson is a features reporter with The Forum who writes a weekly column featuring stylish people in Fargo-Moorhead. Larson graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in journalism and joined The Forum in July 2012. She's a Fargo native who enjoys travel, food, baking, fashion, animals, coffee and all things Midwestern. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @msannagrace 

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