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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
The letters in owl are used to form a picture of the word,
part of a writing exercise in Sherry Matsumoto's classroom.

Dance of the Pen

A penmanship master
makes connections the
old-fashioned, write way

By Cynthia Oi


THE inspiration came when Sherry Matsumoto was in the third grade at Lunalilo Elementary School. Her teacher, whose name she can't remember, wrote in a lovely hand.

"She had the most beautiful handwriting and I wanted to write like that," Matsumoto said.

But there was another level to the admiration.

"I wanted to be able to write neatly so that I could be read," she said.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Matsumoto shows a writing sample in italics.

This all happened in the mid-1950s when regular people didn't have typewriters, much less a digital publishing system. For written communication, people put pen to paper and actually wrote.

Matsumoto, who will present a penmanship workshop Saturday, is now a teacher herself, her passion for penmanship forming the core of how she helps her special education students learn.

And although some may look at penmanship as an antiquated skill no longer necessary in today's life, Matsumoto does not.

"It's a tool to make the connections kids need to learn to read," she said, sitting in a child-size chair in her Heeia Elementary School classroom.

Gaining language skills involves vision, hearing and tactile senses, she said. She has students look at letters and listen to their sounds.

Then she has them go through motion exercises to "feel" the letters. In one, the kids run the shape of a letter on the basketball court.

"They just love it," Matsumoto said, and the physical memory of the shape helps them recognize the letter in a word.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Matsumoto shows a collection of her writing instruments.

She also incorporates short words in drawings. For example, the letters in the word "owl" are used to create a picture of the bird; the "O" forms the body and eyes, the "W" its feathers below its beak and the "L" its tail feathers and wings.

Matsumoto teaches writing in the italic style rather than the ball-and-stick method which uses circles and straight lines to form letters. Ball and stick requires a cumbersome series of strokes and ignores rhythmic movement, according to handwriting and calligraphy gurus Barbara Getty of Portland State University and Inga Dubay of the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts.

Then just as children begin to master the ball-and-stick letters, they are taught the looped cursive script where some letters look different from printed ones, often confusing youngsters.

Italic letters looks the same in print or script, the script developing just by adding serifs or fine lines that connect one letter to the next, Matsumoto said.

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
'The awareness that comes with writing neatly causes you
to look at other things you do and maybe do them better,"
says penmanship master Sherry Matsumoto.

Although children may eventually work with a keyboard rather than a pen, "you have to learn the written language first," she said.

For adults, good penmanship is a necessity, she said.

"I used to work for an attorney and deciphering his writing took so much time," she said.

Getty and Dubay say poor handwriting costs businesses millions of dollars a day. The post office reports thant more that 70 million letters a year are undeliverable, mostly because addresses are unreadable. Then there was the court case in Odessa, Texas, last year involving a pharmacist who misread a doctor's handwriting for a prescription, resulting in the death of the patient.

Even those with the worst scrawl can learn good penmanship, Matsumoto said.

A change in a person's writing also can alter behavior. "The awareness that comes with writing neatly causes you to look at other things you do and maybe do them better," she said.

Beyond all the practical reasons, Matsumoto is a hard-line penmanship pusher simply because she likes to write. She owns hundreds of calligraphic pens, vintage and otherwise, and she loves good stationery, but all of this is window dressing for the ideas and thoughts she wants to share.

The 53-year-old mother of two grown children keeps journals and writes devotional literature.

Although the medium is not the message, penmanship does have a visual and psychological impact, she said.

"To be literate, one must write with a fair hand," she said. "If no one can read it, it cannot be shared."

Writing matters

Bullet What: Penmanship workshop with scribe Sherry Matsumoto
Bullet When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday
Bullet Where: Mission Houses Museum, 553 King St.
Bullet Cost: $25, includes materials
Bullet Call: 531-0481. Registration deadline Friday

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