A handwritten blast from the past

I had the unbelievable good fortune today to attend the fifth annual Sea Change conference at the University of Minnesota. I’ll write (much!) more about this inspiring event when I get permission to share some PowerPoint slides and republish a few photos.

In the meantime, the story I can share pertains to one of the attendees, designer Carolyn Porter, who years ago happened across five beautiful handwritten letters at an antiques market in Stillwater, Minnesota. They were in French, so she didn’t know what they said.

Marcel letter detail

But as she explained in a recent interview,

“I was drawn to the handwriting and the shapes of individual characters. And even without being able to read them, it was clear that these letters were special.”

In 2011 curiosity got the best of her, and Carolyn had the five letters translated. She was shocked to learn that their author was a Frenchman named Marcel Heuzé, who was conscripted into a work camp in Berlin during World War II (shown below in 1932 with his wife, Renée).
Marcel Heuze and wife Renee
The letters, stained and scarred with censor marks, included rare first-person testimony of survival inside a labor camp. One of the letters, written to his wife and three young daughters back home in rural France, began, “Now I can give you details about my life as a prisoner.” He described the clothes he had been given to wear, how hungry he was, a schedule of his daily work life, and how he and his fellow prisoners sought shelter while the factory was bombed.

Carolyn was so moved by the beauty of Marcel’s letterforms — and the power of his writing — that she embarked on a year-long search to learn his fate. The outcome of her search culminated in a trip to Paris, with an extraordinary meeting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

It also resulted in a new font, based on the original letters, complete with their stains and censor marks.

The result of years of research and design work, … the font is a highly readable running script that includes textural details that capture the look of ink on paper. The fonts … Marcel EuroPost One and Two each feature more than 200 postmarks, cancellation and censor marks, and other embellishments found on historical letters and documents.

I won’t tell you how Marcel’s story ended, so you can read it for yourself here. Or here.

But I was so moved by the whole affair that I rushed home and purchased the Marcel font this evening.

133970

I found it heartbreaking to set the words of one survivor of the Nazi’s barbarism in the hand of another … but wonderful to know they survived.

Marcel Sara Atzmon quote BLOG

8 comments

    • Thanks so much, Jim. I found the whole story so moving and so interesting that I’m thinking of approaching the fontographer for permission to do a more in-depth article. I can’t believe the local paper hasn’t covered it, for starters! And I’d love to meet the family in France and ask them about their recollections, too. In the meantime, I can hardly wait to share all of the other cool things I heard and saw today. I have a feeling you’ll especially appreciate the lecture from the MIT-trained engineer who is also a writer, designer, and comedian. 😉

    • Je suis ravie de recevoir votre petit commentaire, Msr. Cler. Si vous voulez m’envoyer un email, j’aimerais bien savoir plus à propos de votre famille et de votre grand-père. C’est une histoire triste — mais aussi belle — qui m’a captivé. Mon addresse email est hmunro point wordpress arrobas gmail point com. Merci infiniment de vous avoir mis en contacte.

    • Oh my gosh, Carolyn. I am *so* honored to hear from you! I thought the story was extraordinary — and the font you designed is absolutely gorgeous. I’m very glad Marcel’s letters landed in the hands on someone who would not only be caring and curious enough to research his story, but who would also be capable of transforming his writing into a work of art. It’s quite a legacy you’ve created! Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to write. My best to you!

  1. Goodness — thank YOU for the kind words! I have something I’d like to mail to you. Can you send me a private message with your mailing address? (Can you see my email from my original post?)

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