Myrna Rosen has been a Calligraphy professor at the School of Design since 1985. For the past 37 years, the sight of Myrna walking up the stairs of Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall with Jack Rosen, her husband, carrying all her calligraphy books by her side is witnessed by countless students.

Although her career began in an unexpected way, as of now, she remarks that her passion for calligraphy and teaching is something that will never die out. Over the years, she steadily grew as a recognized calligrapher while focusing on the responsibilities of being a mother and a wife.

However, at the same time, she would not have been able to achieve her calligraphy journey without the support that she gained from the people in her life, including her mother, her mentor Arnold Bank, and her husband Jack. These are the people that helped and inspired her to become who she is today. Through the words of Myrna, this issues shines the light on the supporters in her life who encouraged and inspired her to start her calligraphy journey.
A lot of students, including us, know you as a calligraphy teacher at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). If you had to describe yourself, how would you introduce yourself?
Myrna: Well, I’m a mother. I’m a calligrapher. I have three children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. I’ve spent a lot of time with them. I have a wonderful husband, and calligraphy is not my only job.
How did you start your calligraphy journey?
Myrna: My mother had given me a mechanical lettering pen when I had that last child, and I was sick in bed. I started to practice. A friend of mine said, “Ooh, that’s beautiful. Will you write my wedding invitations?” And that’s really how I started. Finally, I took a little class in calligraphy at the Pittsburgh Center of the Arts. Someone suggested I go to this lecture about Arnold Bank. That was in the early ’70s. I think even ’69. I told my husband, Jack, “There’s a famous teacher at Carnegie Mellon.” And I said, “Ooh, I’m so afraid.”
Jack said, “Come on. I’ll take you to meet him.” And he took me by the hand with three children. And he said, “Professor Bank, my wife is talented. She wants you to teach her.”
And with that, in 1974, I became his student. I became a special student in a class on Saturday mornings. Now, I got the chance to have a Saturday morning class. Not long after that, he said to me, “Too bad you started so late.” Because I already had three children. He said, “What, three children? Do the best you can.” In 1978, he got sick and I started to teach with him.

One day he was going to do a workshop for us, and we were all excited to take the class. And I had no idea what I was to do. he said, “And now, I’d like to have you meet my trusty assistant.” I had no idea what I was to do.

He just called me his assistant and I was unprepared for the job he gave to me. I did it and somehow, I’ve been here ever since. He said to me, “You know? You’re in a unique position. Apprentice to the master in the 20th century.” I am very appreciative because I’ve been free to pursue the lettering arts. I’ve been to 37 international lettering arts conferences, all over the country and Canada. And I couldn’t have done it without Jack because he did all the domestic work while I got ink on my hands. And I’m very lucky.
You mentioned a lot of supporters. Can we go in depth about each person and how they supported you? Starting with Jack. How did Jack impact your career?
Myrna: Well, he’s just very cooperative about my going out of town for a week. Every summer, I went to school. I eventually ended up teaching with Professor Bank. So I came two days a week, Saturday and Wednesday, to school. I mean, he’s just always there to help me. He would never let me carry anything. So even when I started here [Carnegie Mellon University], he’d take me up by the hand and then he’d bring all of my stuff up. For many years, I was so eager to share everything that I’d bring so many books, paper, paint from home and he put up with all of that. As I got older with him, I have fallen a couple of times. I broke some ribs. He was afraid that I would fall [again]. So from then on, he insisted on staying here with me. So he reads a book or whatever. And if I fall, he’ll pick me up.
He always says,“I’m very proud of you.” And it’s not common for a husband to not be jealous of a
busy wife.
Thanks for sharing. I guess going into Arnold Bank. I know he was one of your mentors. What was he like?
Myrna: He was—
Jack: (laughs)
Myrna: … frightening to strangers. I’ll tell you, everybody in the department was scared of him except me. But he had his tender moments. And his tenderness towards his wife and son. He loved my cooking too. l I’ll tell you … A person would come into the class, and he would say (thundering voice)
He had the passion. In the 1950s, he was a Fulbright scholar in England. He’s just, to me, a wonderful teacher. He would mention a book, and I would go to the library. He had invited me to his home to look at precious books and he did everything he could that a good teacher would do. He was an accomplished trumpet player. He contemplated his career.
How do your students support you?
Jack: I notice that every one of them, practically, when they leave they say, “Thank you, Myrna.” They’re grateful. Which is really nice. They aren’t anxious to leave the room.
Myrna: It’s intimate. That’s how I am. One former student, Jessie, made a website for me. I have a package to send her now for a hand that she didn't get to learn. Her interest was wonderful. And you know, I had both of her sisters too. They actually worked on the website, too, the three of them. Actually, Rachel [the eldest of the sisters] was the instigator. But she left, and Jessie took over and did the bulk of the work.
Jack: If you took her class , you know that if you wanted to get up and walk out, you could. Every once in a while, you hear a group of them laughing. All students seem to enjoy the class.
Another thing we wanted to talk about is your work. Is there one project that is your favorite?
Jack: The Pillars.
Myrna: Yes, that’s a good one. At Duquesne University. I painted 200 names and gilded 23k gold, and other decorations on the top. They gave me a studio, and they set up a platform for me, so that I could reach 15 feet high … There were two slabs on each side of the entrance, as you entered the Duquesne University chapel. And I painted them with One-Shot enamel. It’s a sign painter’s medium. And that was a thing that I liked very much to do.
Jack: That took her a few months to do. It’s pretty accessible. As you come out of the chapel.
Could you walk us through your creative process?
Myrna: Oh, my. That is a very big question. Because I’m very scattered about what I do. I mean, for me personally, I start things and then I get distracted for something legitimate, like family. And I don’t know how to describe it to you. It’s a start and stop thing. If I have a mission, I get it done. I’ve done a lot of jobs like poetry, wedding vows, certificates for many institutions, and clothing. But they’re done out of necessity. Otherwise, I don’t pleasure myself, but I should sit down and write something or do something. But I really can’t walk it through. I think anybody who can tell you that is unique. I have piles of things I want to do. But it just goes by the wayside.
Reflecting on your supporters, what type of supporters do you think young designers need to grow and thrive?
Myrna: Me.(everyone laughs)
Patience, good role models; what’s new but also what’s past.
Jack: I had a heart attack, and I was in the hospital. And Myrna said to me, “I’m gonna teach you how to write.” Because my handwriting was terrible. And she brought ink and pen and I had that little tray. She was gonna teach me italic. And after 10 minutes, I said to her, “Myrna, take these pens and take them home and don’t ever do this again.”
Myrna: (laughs) You need patience.
What’s that saying about calligraphy coming off of the wall and going to the wall?
Myrna: So, I have a friend,Donald Jackson, who is a scribe to the Queen of England. He said, “Calligraphy has come off of the board and gone up onto the walls.” There is a movement and has been for quite a while of painting, calligraphic paintings. People don’t need to write books anymore as they did in the past. But they do this calligraphic art, and it’s art. I mean, there’s always a debate about what’s art and what’s not. Some people say, “Calligraphy’s not art.” But if you see what they call calligraphy on some of these paintings, they’re gorgeous. They are just incredible. So they have evolved from the table to the wall.
Do you think that’s the future of calligraphy?
Myrna: Yeah, I do. What I see is people going back. I love the historic hands, Roman letters, rustic letters, round letters. I’m talking about from the first century. I learned many of those hands, maybe 15 or 20 different hands.

I see younger people starting over from the first century, to the second, to the third. It’s a circle. The calligraphic painting is going strong.

I’m surprised that many kids are interested in history. There are kids who really wanna know where the Roman letters came from and where the styles came and what role Italian city played.
So here’s the last question before we wrap up for tonight. What is the best advice you have received in your journey that you want to pass on?
Myrna: Take advantage of the gifts you have.
Jack: One more, consistency.
Myrna: That’s a good one —