July 30, 2014
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Gulfshore Artisans: Gerry Nichols

The desire for the perfect Christmas card turned into a love affair with calligraphy.

Alex Stafford

Calligrapher/owner, Iris Arts

Age: 69

Years in the trade: 44

Got her start: Because she wanted to make a fancy Christmas card.

In Southwest Florida since: 2002

You never forget your first piece of hand-calligraphied mail. There’s something about the painstakingly etched letters that makes you that much more excited to slip your thumb ever-so carefully under the envelope’s flap. No matter how mundane a name or address is, seeing it written in beautiful calligraphy just makes the recipient feel—at least for a moment—like royalty.

But you also probably remember it because it’s such a rare thing. The only thing more rare than a beautifully penned envelope is a talented calligrapher to make that envelope. In Naples, Gerry Nichols, owner of Iris Arts, has been helping clients produce keepsake-worthy invitations, birth announcements and pieces of art since 2002. The daughter of a typewriter company executive of all things, Nichols has spent the past 40 years as a calligrapher minding her P’s and Q’s (and L’s and T’s and every other letter) as she produces beautiful, one-of-a kind creations.

Christmas Spirit

“I’ve always been really into art, but I didn’t start doing calligraphy until I was married. The first year I was married, I decided I wanted to make a really nice Christmas card. I signed up for a calligraphy class and two weeks into the class the instructor said, ‘I’m sorry, the class is disintegrating, but I’d be willing to continue teaching anyone who is interested.’ I was so focused on making my Christmas card that I took him up on his offer.”

Ongoing Art Form

“It’s not an instant gratification art. You don’t take a course and you’re good to go—not if you’re like me and you appreciate the history and the letters and the marks. Calligraphy is something you are constantly working on and learning more about.”

Loving Lists

“I do a lot of invitations for fancy parties and weddings. There are some calligraphers that won’t do invitations, but I don’t mind them; it’s practice for me, and I find it calming to sit in my studio and go down the list.”

Lettering Challenges

“I’ve lettered on some crazy things in my life. Once, I lettered on this wild piece of wood a guy had found, and he wanted to give it to his friend who was a priest. I spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking, ‘So how am I going to do this?’”

Beauty of Fonts

“Beautiful letters and signs are everywhere, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life, people forget to notice them. I always joke that if we go to a fancy restaurant, while everyone is looking at all the dishes on the menu, I’m looking at the menu and saying, ‘Oh, what a beautiful A!’ But really, beautiful letters are everywhere if you stop to look for them.”

Most-Loved Fonts

“My favorite letters are G, which has a real flair to it, and I like A’s. My least favorite letter is probably a D, but I’m working on it.”

Iris Arts will letter anything from blocks of wood to party invitations. For more information, call (239) 289-1556.

—AC Shilton

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