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Calligraphy & Cocktails: meet Sam Handel

By: Jeffrey Moss

November the 12th, a sunny mid-Autumn Saturday in Chicago, saw the first of what I hope will be a long tradition at the shop on Halsted: calligraphy taught by expert Samantha Handel, to a fun group of cocktail-sipping students. That Saturday it was French 75s served in Wasara paper wine cups, with sweet almond cookies on little Maru round paper plates.

Great Lakes Home is a love for all things historical, made modern by way of presentation or some other mode of update, which is what makes Sam such an ideal teacher. That, and the determination with which she acquired her skills:

"I took a fun class that was focused on traditional, italic style calligraphy with a broad-tip marker, but it wasn't the style that I really loved. I was looking to create something more modern, so I bought a book called Modern Calligraphy and taught myself. However, it took me months to get past the frustration and troubleshooting phase before I felt confident enough to create things for my friends. That's why I like to teach others. I've designed the class that I would have loved to take when I was first getting started. With a little extra guidance, most of my participants get as far in two hours as I was with about two months of practice by myself—seriously!"

The class is fun, and frankly a quick two hours because Sam manages to get so much instruction into that amount of time. Students had various reasons for taking the class, ranging from casual interest to something closer to Sam's own reasons for learning to calligraph:

"I got interested in learning it seriously after I graduated college, because I started to get invited to lots of weddings but didn't have the funds to buy wedding gifts for all my friends. I decided to learn calligraphy in the hopes that my friend would accept hand-addressed envelopes and wedding decor instead of a gift. And they were more than willing to accept!"

The class is a pleasure to host, too. Cocktails were refreshed, the students' energy was wonderful in the shop, and it was fun to incorporate some of Sam's work into the table setting that tops the Amy Carson table at the front of the store.

I'm looking forward to the next one.  Sam and I are looking at dates in January, and again in February, readying for that most passionate mid-Winter retreat: St. Valentine's Day. Should be fun. And it's lovely when the aftermath of a party looks as good as Wasara does, which is why I keep a Pinterest page devoted to those wonderful Japanese paper serving pieces. Check it out if you're so inclined.

But keep an eye out for updates on Sam's next class ... the first one sold out in no time flat.

See you here,


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