Tag Archives: calligraphy instruction

Breaching the walls of the Folger Shakespeare Library

After a 2 month hiatus, I am back to recording progress on my trip. Coming back and re-establishing myself was more challenging than I imagined – in fact the trip itself was more challenging than I thought it would be. My apologies for leaving you hanging!

IMG_0376
Motorcycling to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC

Getting into a special collection library can be daunting. University libraries have their system, public libraries have somewhat easier methods and private libraries can be the most restrictive. But things are changing in the library world and the vetting process has become a little less stringent.

The Folger Shakespeare Library requires letters from two individuals with .edu or .org email addresses. Generally that means an academic institution or non-profit research library. I was fortunate to acquire letters from one of each and the librarians said some nice things about me and my project.

I was excited that I was granted entry as a reader. I’ve visited the Folger’s conservation lab a number of times, but going in as a researcher is different than visiting a colleague.

It was raining lightly on Saturday, September 11, 2015 when I rode to the library. My hosts live in Silver Spring, MD about 9 miles from the library, a 45 minute commute during the week. On a Saturday, it’s faster as there is less traffic on the roads.

If I was going to be a riding reader, I should ride to the library at least once while in the nation’s capital. I arrived somewhat damp in my riding gear. The guard didn’t believe that I had permission to enter. After requesting my identification, she told me to stand in the lobby while she checked the reader services desk. I dripped water on the stone floor as I awaited my fate. Would I be allowed into this august library or be thrown out as motorcycle trash? The guard didn’t appear to like a damp biker being allowed into the library. I guess not everybody in the library world has come to embrace motorcyclists?

Requests for items are made prior to arrival so the staff has time to page them, I’d made my request on Friday. Saturday, the hours are curtailed, so it makes sense to do this. Requesting vault or restricted items, they are pulled only during the week.

At the desk, I asked for my books and a young woman in jeans (librarians don’t wear jeans, do they?) brought them to me. She asked why I had requested the particular books I had. Briefly (yeah, right!) I told her about Motoscribendi and my research. She listened attentively and then introduced herself as Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger. We stood there for half an hour talking about writing manuals, different calligraphic hands, quill cutting and the world of rare books and the chance to look at old books and manuscripts. It was like meeting an old friend and catching up. Heather’s knowledge and enthusiasm are what makes this kind of work exciting. Meeting with an inquisitive, engaged paleographer happy to talk with me about these things gave me an even greater sense of being a part of something worth pursuing.

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Practicing the Secretary Hand

Heather teaches paleography classes on the Secretary hand at the library. Even though many manuscripts at the library are in English, they are all but indecipherable without some training. The library has around 60,000 manuscripts many of which are written in a Secretary hand. Heather and her colleagues have been working on a project to teach paleography and get people involved in transcribing documents from the collection. Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has just launched Shakespeare’s World to use crowdsourcing technology to allow interested individuals to be a part of reading and transcribing these manuscripts.

We talked about quill-cutting, parchment-making and other scribal traditions and how exciting it is to look at these materials and discover things about production and use.

When I went to sit down to look at the books, she apologized for taking me from my work, but the truth was that speaking with her is my work. Getting to look at books and learning more about these writing manuals is important, but I wanted to meet the scholars, librarians and staff that are charged with caring for these books.

 

 

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Manuscript note about writing masters in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1588 copy 2 of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

After lunch, I came back and continued looking at the books I’d called up. Palatino’s writing manuals have been well researched by Stanley Morison and others, but I think there’s more to learn by looking at these books. A digital copy will only represent one iteration.  Each time I open a writing manual, I am excited to see how it has lived and been used.

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Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume. 1566, with an owner’s practice flourishes on the title page

This interplay of book and reader shows the challenge of learning to master a particular hand. Sometimes the student is not very skilled, and sometimes they are better. And often, the progression is obvious through the book’s progression.

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1667 manuscript copying of exemplars in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1566 reprint of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

You see in the above image a woodblock that was cut in 1565 being used in the 1566 edition of the Compendio del Gran Volume. This block was cut a year before the printing of this book. It was the norm for woodblocks to be stored and reused in subsequent books. Typesetting for the later editions was newly done yet the woodblock is older. This copy then, has three distinct time element in this one page:

1565: Woodblock

1566: Typeset signature mark at lower right “Ciij”

1667: Manuscript practice, dated to a century later

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1667 manuscript copying of exemplars in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1588 reprint of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

And on the verso of the leaf marked “Ciij” is another block cut a year later in 1566 with the same 17th century scribe’s annotation of Palatino’s full name.

There’s more to discuss about the Folger’s Palatino collection, and I’ll continue that in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

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Discovery at the Library of Congress

Early Fall on Capitol Hill
Early Fall on Capitol Hill

The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress is one of the finest collections of illustrated books in the US. Calligraphy, both in the form of manuscript as well as printed writing manuals, is well represented in the collection. The Rare Book & Special Collections department has other collections that fill in gaps in the printed writing manual subject area. Acquisitions are made to expand their holdings, and I was allowed to review a number of books that have come into the collection but haven’t been cataloged yet.

I was eager to find hidden books in the uncatalogued book truck. Looking at material that hasn’t been pored over is a thrill because I might find an item that hasn’t been researched yet, or has some other importance that awaits discovery. This time, I was rewarded with discovering a new-found friend, Joseph Seavy.  I pulled a little blue pamphlet off of the truck, placing a flag to mark its location and knew immediately that I was the first to see this as a related item to the Newberry copy.

The Writer's Assistant, Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant, Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

The fact that I was looking at another copy, knowing that there may be only one other place that it existed was exciting. The Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy had been microfilmed, but the only images they took were of the cover and inside wrappers. No images of the text pages were available.

I anticipated seeing the watermarked letters, and hoped there would be writing over them to show how people used these instruction books.

Front cover/first page The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
Front cover/first page
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

You can see the letters in this copy are well-written. And they are of the same style as the letters in the Newberry copy. I turned the page and subsequent pages, and all were filled with a fairly accomplished hand written on both sides of the laid paper.

The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

This is what the Newberry copy looks like:

The Writer's Assistant Volume 4 Joseph Seavy The Newberry Library
The Writer’s Assistant
Volume 4
Joseph Seavy
The Newberry Library

In both books, the letterforms are the same, the scribal version shows the influence of the pressure of the pointed pen. I’ve asked for a light sheet (a paper thin light source) and lay it behind the one of the manuscript pages but cannot detect a watermark. And the book is laid paper, not wove as is the Newberry copy.  So, there’s at least one copy of the book without watermark and LC’s copy doesn’t have a volume number either.

Now I want to know more because this mystery is intriguing. I know of no other copybook where the instruction is produced by watermark. The title and instructions are printed in Boston, 1814 and the price is somewhat inexpensive with a current value around $2.25. That would not be outrageous for a parent  to buy a copy of an instruction manual for a child. If all four volumes were purchased it would be around $9.00 today.

How many copies of this series survive? I go back to Worldcat and fight the digital/book blindspot and try to narrow down where an actual book is rather than the mircorform or its digital equivalent. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has Vol. 2 & 4. And I’ll be headed there in a few weeks, so I’ve gotten lucky because I’ll be seeing 2 more examples from this series.

I am convinced that there is no watermark letterform present in this pamphlet  owned by George W. Fenns. He may have been the scribe that filled this book front to back with competent practice lettering. A quick search fails to find him.

The hunt is on. I want to know more about this book. And I want to know where/how one unnumbered volume has laid paper instead of the watermarked paper. I’ve got more questions than answers – and that is exhilarating.

Palatino’s: Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere… 1545

Library of Congress Jefferson Bldg.
Library of Congress Jefferson Bldg.

I found my way to the Library of Congress from Chicago after a few adventures on the road, but I’m going to leave those stories for another post.

The Rare Books & Manuscripts division is in the Jefferson Bldg. They have a few nice books there & I got to see more than just two.

However, it was a treat to look at two different copies of the 1545 Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere that they hold. One is the Rosenwald copy and the other is the Fabyan copy.

Palatino's Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan in a Carolingian vellum leaf Rosenwald in an early binding
Palatino’s Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan in a Carolingian vellum leaf
Rosenwald in an early binding

The 1545 copy is a reprint from the 1540 publication. I haven’t looked at two copies of the same title of any writing manual from the same issue date. At Iowa I’d taken a look at 3 Bickhams from different years and the production variations were evident. I thought it might be fun to see what kind of variations there would be in two books from the same publication date and presumed that they were from different printings of the same year.

Palatino's Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino’s Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The Rosenwald copy isn’t trimmed as tight as the Fabyan. There are more generous margins on the Rosenwald book.

The paper looked the same as I started to go through it and the printing was comparable in terms of coverage. Inking on the reverse blocks varies but that’s to be expected.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

I kept looking for a variation in block formatting or change in something as I went through the books.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The imposition of blocks was the same throughout the books. As I was going through them, I noticed a variation in the signature marks at Cii – not surprising if they were printed at different times.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan
Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Rosenwald
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Rosenwald

When I went through the books a second time, I got a little excited because I hadn’t seen any other variation i the printing order or blocks. The rest of the letterpress was all the same.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

Then I went through them again and looked at how the blocks lined up and looked for obvious variations in the show-through and found so much similarity in impression and inking and paper that I suspect they were printed in the same press run.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The Fabyan copy has an owner’s practice on the verso of the last page.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)
Practice lettering Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan
Practice lettering
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan

I mentioned this possibility to Mark Dimunation and he seemed interested. When I return, I’ll gather more information and see if my theory holds up to greater scrutiny.

Mercator’s projection and tutelage

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Italian 16th century writing manuals are numerous, however the rest of the Continent took about half a century to catch up with the innovators. Neudorffer in Germany, Iciar in Spain published prior to the middle of the century, but there was one guy over in Flanders that stood out. When Palatino was making a splash with his Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Gerhard Mercator produced Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio.

As you can see, Mercator went in for flourishes in a big way, even moreso than his Southern contemporaries.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Gerhard Mercator had skill, energy and intelligence and was schooled in writing out texts in all the current hands. He particularly favored the Italic hand for maps and his skill as scribe and engraver led to work in making globes and soon after, maps. He could cut woodblocks as he does in this manual or engrave in copper as he often did for maps. This level of versatility in dexterity, aesthetic and mathematical skills produced an impressive oeuvre.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Whether describing how to hold the pen properly or cut a quill, Mercator’s text is quite clear on how to do it.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Since Mercator wrote on maps, not in books (though he surely did that as well) his graphic design and purpose for flourishing were for a different kind of reading. Maps were important tools for marine navigators to get around. The Mercator projection wasn’t his invention, nor was it much used in his day. But let’s not get hung up on gnarly navigation details and get to his engraved maps. That’s where the fun in lettering and fantastical creatures of the sea are.

Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584

Mercator decided to show the Ptolemaic concept of the world in the 1580s and engraved maps based on this earlier world view.

Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584

Those flourishes may not be necessary, but they do look nice splashing around that sea creature.

University of Iowa Center for the Book

At the Paper Lab of the University of Iowa's Center for the Book
At the Paper Lab of the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book

Last week I rode into Iowa City on Tuesday morning. The ride up from Texas had been really hot and I was in light pants and a t-shirt under my riding suit. I’d left the back vent open and was chilled to the bone an hour after starting at 6:30 that morning. I had to stop, drink coffee and eat to thaw. The temperature was in the 60s but I’d been riding in the 90s and 100s previously and I wasn’t prepared for such cool weather.

After that, it was a pleasant 200 mile ride to the Paper Lab in Coralville, just a few miles from the main campus. Tim Barrett, director of the Center for the Book, paper scholar and master papermaker was expecting me. I stowed my motorcycle gear, donned my tennis shoes and headed into Iowa City to have lunch with Cheryl Jacobsen, a very talented calligrapher and instructor at the Center for the Book. I was invited to speak at the start of Cheryl’s beginning calligraphy class that evening and we had a pleasant talk about what I’m trying to do. Cheryl’s classes are well attended and it’s gratifying to see that calligraphy and lettering are getting the attention of students today.

The Conservation lab at the University of Iowa Library is tucked away in the Government Docs section on the 5th floor
The Conservation lab at the University of Iowa Library

After lunch, I visited the conservation lab at the library. My good friend, Giselle Simon has been at the library for 3 years after working at the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is a small world and people I’ve known at one place often end up somewhere else. This phenomenon will repeat itself as I continue to travel East. Giselle’s a talented conservator and book artist and runs a pretty happy department at Iowa. I was fortunate to meet a few of the technicians and learn of their own skills and interests. A conservation lab often has talented technicians that work every day at the bench to conserve and preserve the library’s material. I enjoy seeing how people use their work skills in their own efforts.

Papermaking classroom at the University of Iowa Center for the Book
Papermaking classroom at the University of Iowa Center for the Book
Paper and mould
Paper and mould at UICB
Standing Press in the paper classroom at the UICB
Standing Press in the paper classroom at the UICB

Tim Barrett is a thoughtful and meticulous craftsman with a strong interest in the aesthetics of historic paper. He has spent quite a few years making papers that emulate Renaissance era paper. Two videos from 2013 and 2014, document the UICB paper lab’s attempts at making 2,000 sheets in a day. One of the things they learned that old rags are more porous and allow for better drainage than fresh material. And a paper mill had support staff beyond the three people at the vat. It took a team of 11 or more people to produce 2,000 sheets in a day.

Writing about historic craft processes is often done without the experience of doing that craft and approaching duplication of materials, techniques and conditions present in the period being studied. Tim and his team took the time and effort to investigate the question by doing. This kind of research is useful as it tests theories with experience.

Portrait of Scalzini. Note the surface of the paper
Portrait of Scalzini. Note the surface of the paper

As you may have guessed from this long post, I’m interested in paper. Was the paper used in writing manuals different than printed books of the same period and locale? What qualities are needed to get a good impression from a woodblock or a copperplate? Did the printmaking process require a different tooth or surface? More sizing or none?

I asked Tim these questions as a means of developing some sensibility to the substrate that writing manuals were recorded. I’ve been photographing paper surfaces and looking at smooth/rough and thin/thick papers to gather information. I’ll report back later after I’ve seen quite a few more books.

Hidden Books @ University of Iowa’s Special Collections Department

Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room
Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room

I visited the University of Iowa’s Special Collections library on Tuesday and Wednesday for a couple of hours. While I didn’t know what I would find, I was hoping there’d be something.

The director, Greg Prickman took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with me and talk about how the collection was amassed. There are quite a few incunabula (books printed before 1501) which were acquired from Classics professors donating their collections to permanent loans to purchases to fill out the history of printing subject area.

The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa's Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa’s Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections

I discovered that they have 4 writing manuals. Three copies of G. Bickham’s Universal Penman from 1733 and two later dates as well as a 1585 copy of Scalzini’s Il secretario.

EDIT:

Scalzini is known for his flourishes or “command of hand.” He argued that a light touch and quick execution was necessary for a successful commercial scribe. Attacking his senior, Giovanni Francesco Cresci as spending too much time on careful execution and too-sharp a pen nib, Scalzini’s scathing remarks became standard fare for writing-master wars.

Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 24. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 25. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections

In visiting Iowa’s Special Collections reading room, I was impressed by how inviting and comfortable it was as a first time reader to get acclimated. Each library has its own style, rules and etiquette. Iowa welcomes its scholars with a directness and warmth that made me feel welcome instantly. The system for searching and discovering material is straightforward as is the requesting of items for research.

I look forward to going back when I have more than a couple of hours to delve into their collection further.

Have quill, will travel

I’ve stopped overnight in Santa Fe, NM at my brother Jamie’s house. The 1,300 mile ride has been enjoyable, and I’m only a day or two behind in getting to my first library destination, the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, TX.

Writing manuals not only taught stroke sequence, or ductus, they also taught how to cut and hold the quill pen. Various feathers have been used but goose and turkey quills are commonly used today. The primary flight feather is considered the best quill to use for writing.

One of the things I like about calligraphy is that the tools are simple, fairly small and light-weight and can be handled easily. I prepared for my trip by cutting the feathers off a number of turkey quills. I’ve packed two different quill knives, some ink and gouache so that I can demonstrate along the way. I hope to demonstrate quill cutting and talk about these books as I ride to institutions with writing manuals.

Quills for travel
Quills, knives, ink, gouache and other tools for making marks
How to hold the quill pen
How to hold the quill pen

The Harry Ransom Center acquired the Marzoli collection of written manuals in 1962. Her catalog of seventy-two writing books will aid in my research. I will also spend time with the Beaufoy collection of writing manuals that have been disbound and mounted scrapbook-style in large 19th century tooled bindings. There promise to be many discoveries in these 7 volumes which house about 50 books.

Beaufoy binding holding writing manuals pasted within scrapbook-style
Beaufoy binding housing writing manuals pasted scrapbook-style
Neudorfer the Elder, pasted into Beaufoy volume at Harry Ransom Center
Neudorfer the Elder, pasted into Beaufoy volume at Harry Ransom Center
IMG_6730
Title page from Vol. 2 of Beaufoy’s collection

Both the Beaufoy and Marzoli collections illustrate how traveling to an institution and talking with librarians aid an online census for these books. Neither of these two collections are cataloged with full information. Rich Orem was instructive in pointing out things about each that weren’t in the catalog.

Reviewing the books I’ve seen, the Marzoli catalog as well as the scholarly papers held with these materials will give me my first chance to develop a dialog and working procedure that I can take to other institutions.