Next year, if the “political situation does not get any worse,” Michael Sull of Kansas will take to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, one of Geneva’s greatest gifts to the world.
No, not a bottle of wine.
Rather, Sull, a Master Penman, will teach in Russian cities the fine art of Spencerian Script, a true American original that might have been forgotten had it not been for Sull and the Platt R. Spencer Historical Society.
Sull first came to Geneva in 1984 to learn all he could about Platt R. Spencer (1800-1864), who lived in Geneva Township most of his life. Spencer’s house still stands on North Meyers Road and recently was donated to the society by the Rood family.
Spencer developed a style of script that was American; prior to Spencer, script handwriting styles were adapted from European styles. Inspired by the waves on Lake Erie and the graceful curves of grapevines, Spencer developed a script that would be used for business correspondence until the typewriter came along. The script and other business training was provided through schools that a son founded after his father’s death. During Spencer’s adult life, he taught the method at his Jericho cabin on the North Meyers property.
Sull worked with the City of Geneva and Platt R. Spencer Historical Society to bring a Spencer monument to the city. It was dedicated Aug. 24, 2012. On Friday, Aug. 11, society members held an anniversary gathering at the monument, which is in front of the Western County Court building on West Main.
Sull was guest of honor for the event, which was marked by the reading and presentation of proclamations from the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners. Commissioner J.P. Ducro IV presented a proclamation recognizing the society’s efforts for preserving and promoting the Spencerian Saga and Script. And Vice-President Kathryn Whittington presented a proclamation expressing the county’s appreciation for Sull’s work in researching Spencer’s life and script, and then taking the script to the world.
“He’s known around the world,” said Sull, who has taught Spencerian Script in 45 states and 10 nations. Most recently, he taught it in five Asian countries.
“Everywhere I go, (Spencer) is almost a common word,” Sull said. “And it all started here.”
Spencer’s life was marked by poverty, trials and a battle with alcohol until his early 30s. Commissioner Ducro stated that Spencer’s determination to be more than his addiction shows that each person has something to contribute in spite of his challenges.
State Rep. John Patterson, a former history teacher, praised the community for its dedication to preserving the legacy of its most famous resident. He said there is a bill in the state legislature that would bring back cursive handwriting to Ohio classrooms. Among the reasons for teaching it is to give students the tool to read the documents of the past, including their grandparents’ love letters and many historical documents.
Sull’s interest in the script was to counter the calligraphy movement’s infatuation with European styles. He said Spencer’s script was regarded as “cowboy handwriting.” Sull’s book and workshops have restored Spencer’s work to a place of respect and honor.
While the city does not have a “Spencer Museum,” per se, there is a Spencer Room in the Western County Courthouse. The society depends upon volunteers and members to sustain its work and the restoration of the Spencer home. For membership information call 440-466-6414.