A Made From RI Inspiration On His Birthday

A Made From RI Inspiration On His Birthday

Posted by Keith R Wahl, Made From RI on Aug 20th 2021

Every business has an inspiration. Made From RI & Made From RI Gallery has several. One is a man who we remember every year on his date of birth, August 22nd. Enclosed is his story. This piece was written in 1961. I was not yet born and would not be for another couple of years. The referenced house and studio were just up the hill from where I grew up  on Warwick Neck.

(By Karl Rittman of the Warwick Beacon)

Throughout Rhode Island and beyond, there are many people who have his work. Grandpa believed that everyone deserved to have good art regardless of their means. He would often give people an original framed piece of his work for their wedding or birthday.

George V. Higgins was a reporter for the Providence Journal company. He was also the author of such books as The Friends of Eddie Coyle (which was made into a movie starring Robert Mitchum). 

Lithograph Artist Is Retired, but ----

Calligraphy, Engrossing Keep Him Busy

By George V Higgins, The Providence Journal

Calligraphy - a craft that goes back to the musty castles and monasteries of the 13th and 14th centuries - is carried on today in a well equipped studio of a contemporary ranch house on Warwick Neck.

Adolph Wahl, a retired lithograph artist, works by choice as a calligrapher and engrosser and produces manuscripts and illuminated Gospels reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

Mr Wahl was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1889. He came to this country with his family right after the turn of the century, settling in New Jersey. When he was 16, he took a course in textile designing.

(Adolph Wahl birthplace in Budendorf, Switzerland - photo by Keith R Wahl, Made From RI Gallery)

When he was 17, his family moved to Rhode Island and Mr. Wahl went to work for the Providence Lithograph Co. He worked as a pen-crayon artist for many years, later became a process artist and became head of the process art department.

(Promotion memo of Adolph Wahl, Providence Lithograph Company)

“We put our designs on German limestone then,” he said. “It was specially treated, and the impressions were removed from it for printing by a chemical process.” He smiled reflectively. “Everything changed fast, though, and pretty soon we weren’t using the stone anymore”.

“There were a lot of improvements,” Mr. Wahl said. “We were just trying to keep up with things”.

Busy as he was, Mr. Wahl ran into experts in calligraphy and engrossing who urged him not to neglect his talents in those fields. Engrossing, he explained, is a formalized skill and the artist is restricted to established alphabets, such as the Old English, and expected to choose from several general kinds of ornamentation. Calligraphy is more a matter of taste and individual inspiration - the artist does what he likes.

Mr. Wahl’s calligraphy is graceful, alternating between spider web lines with deep flourishes.

Calligraphy and engrossing were traditionally taught over a number of years to apprentices. But except for a course at the Lockwood School in Kalamazoo, Mich., in the 1920’s, Mr. Wahl learned what he knows in private study.

“I didn’t get much chance to practice until 1959, when I retired,” he said. “Lithographing’s a full time job and so are calligraphy and engrossing”.

Since retiring, Mr. Wahl has done no advertising but found his time increasingly crowded nonetheless. Citations, certificates and special diplomas appear regularly on the heavy paper under his special pens, the holders equipped with oblique arms for the points to allow equal pressure on both edges of the squib and permit elaborate flourishes on the letters.

“I didn’t look for any of this,” Mr. Wahl said resignedly, “and I don’t look for it now.” He indicated the pen and ink drawings of dogs, birches, and birds, the chalk and watercolor portrait of his father and the portraits he has done for friends. “This is what I spend my free time on,” he said. “It’s supposed to be my hobby.”

On the wall of his studio there’s a coat of arms which he did for the owner of the Providence Lithograph Co. “That’s a replica,” he said, obviously pleased with the brick red and gold tracery of the ornamentation. “The original was made in France and it was in poor condition.”

As though admitting a weakness he said “I had to make him one and I made that one for myself.” He pointed to the black seal of registration stamped on heraldic documents by the certifying agencies, “I copied the seals,” he said. “They were in the original. That one’s blurred because the one on the original was.”

(Adolph and Fannie Wahl, August 22, 1985 - 96th Birthday)

In his living room Mr. Wahl has taken advantage of a light turquoise background to paint a mural of Warwick Neck Light. His wife, Fannie, cooks in a modern kitchen lined with cabinetry, and his three sons park their cars in the circular asphalt drive and his two granddaughters come to visit. Fluorescent draftsmen’s lamps hang over the desk for days when daylight’s not enough and Mr. Wahl uses ballpoint to make casual notes. But it’s still a shock to see no Gothic spires outside the 20th century aluminum windows. 

(Adolph Wahl, August 22, 1981 - 92nd Birthday)

See more about Adolph Wahl here: Made From RI - A Christmas Card, An Artist, And A President

See more about Providence Lithograph Co. at the Rhode Island Historical Society: Providence Lithograph Co. Records