Font of love
Alumna’s discovery leads to award-winning typeface, book
November 28, 2017
Carolyn Porter’s fascination with typography has led to
larger achievements than she imagined. She not only designed a font for other
designers to use, she has authored a book to share the intriguing story behind
The creation of Marcel Script became a 12-year labor of love
as Porter, a University of Wisconsin-Stout alumna, painstakingly worked on it
around running her graphic design business. Her interest in knowing more about
the man behind the handwriting upon which the font is based took her on another
path, leading to the publication of “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search
for One Man’s Fate,” which came out in June.
Type design interest
Handwriting has enthralled Porter since she was young. She
became hooked on typography — how type elements fit together and fit the
content where they’re used — during graphic design classes at UW-Stout.
Porter’s letterform class included a historic overview of
typefaces and stylistic elements of letters. Professor Bill DeHoff reinforced
lessons on shape and proportion by having students replicate letters, paying
close attention to curve shapes, stem thickness and crossbar placement.
After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration
in graphic design in 1991, she worked for several design firms before starting
Porterfolio Inc., which provides
graphic design and brand strategy services.
While visiting an antique store in Stillwater, Minn., she
found a bundle of letters written in beautiful pen-and-ink handwriting in
French, signed by a man named Marcel, that had been mailed from Berlin to his
family in France during World War II.
Porter, who had hoped someday to create a typeface based
on old handwriting, was drawn to the swirls and arches in his writing. She had
found her inspiration for creating a font, precise work that
requires technical skill and artistry. The font has more than 1,300 characters
and complex coding.
“The biggest element is patience,” said Porter, who lives
with her husband in White Bear Lake, Minn. “It can take hours and many rounds
of revisions to get each letter to look just right. When designing a connected
cursive script like Marcel Script, the most difficult thing is to ensure the
tiny, sweeping lines between letters result in a smooth connection between
every possible letter combination.”
“The whole process that Carolyn went through is a perfect illustration
of the role of typography: She felt drawn to the letters and letter forms as
objects,” said DeHoff, now retired. “The paper, style, rhythms and the obvious
love and care she saw in how the letters were written. You could say she felt
the love that Marcel had put into these letters to his wife. That’s what good
typography should do and be.”
In 2014 Porter’s goal was reached when P22 Type Foundry, a
company that represents typefaces inspired by art and history, rolled out
Marcel Script, which can be purchased and downloaded by computer users.
“Marcel Script is truly a handsome face and versatile within
its range. It feels like an ‘old soul.’” DeHoff said.
The font has won numerous awards, including the 2014
New York Type Director’s Club Certificate for Excellence in Typeface
Design, a premier international typographic competition. Marcel Script was
among 24 winners selected from nearly 200 typefaces from 29 countries.
Meanwhile, Porter had the letters translated. She
discovered that the writer, Marcel Heuzé, was a Frenchman who had
written them to his family while working in a German labor camp.
early 1943, Heuzé was one of hundreds of thousands of French citizens
deported to Germany as part of the collaborationist Vichy government’s
obligatory work service initiative. They filled positions left vacated in
factories, farms and mines by German men in the war.
Marcel wrote to his wife and three young daughters contained beautiful
expressions of love, like this excerpt:
“My little darling, all I have left to do tonight is to ask you to
kiss my little ones very tenderly for me, and Mom also. Your big guy, who loves
you, kisses you with all his strength and with all his heart. And now for all
of you: lots of kisses and good night from your absent Marcel.”
After obtaining legal approval from the family in 2013 to
publish the letters, Porter penned “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for
One Man’s Fate,” published through Skyhorse
Publishing of New York City.
In the book, Porter recounts the design of the font, the
search for information on why Marcel had been in Berlin, whether he survived to
be reunited with his wife and daughters and how the letters ended up in the
antique store in Stillwater.
“I ultimately realized each and every letter Marcel wrote
was not proof of love — it was proof of life. Each letter could have been his
last, which I believe is one reason he lavished his wife and daughters with
words of love,” Porter said. “The font is a way for Marcel’s tender words of
love and his beautiful handwriting to live on.”
“Marcel’s Letter’s” is available in hardcover and eBook
format through Amacon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Apple’s iBooks and
IndieBound.org. For more information, go to Carolyn Porter's website.
Midwest Book Review called the book “an absolutely engaging
and inherently fascinating read from first page to last. ‘Marcel’s Letters’ is
an extraordinary story.”
Script was created by Carolyn Porter based on WWII letters by Frenchman Marcel Heuzé.
Second: Carolyn Porter
Third and fourth: The cover of “Marcel’s
Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate.”
Heuzé and his bride on their wedding day.