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Edward M. Catich lecturing on types

Edward M. Catich, (1906–1979)

Goudy Award Winner 8, 1976

The framed rubbing mounted on the outside wall of the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection has attracted a great deal of attention since it was installed in 1971. The inscription from which the rubbing was obtained appears at the base of the monument erected in Rome early in the second century to memorialize the life of the Emperor Trajan.

This eulogy, prudently reproduced during the Emperor's lifetime, is now more Widely renowned for its appearance than for its content. The capitals are considered by many authorities to be the finest ever cut in stone. They have been particularly influential in the design of printing types since the late 15th century period, when Italian punchcutters created the forms which were responsible for the rise to dominance of the roman types.

The rubbing of the Trajan inscription in the School of Printing was made for us by the Rev. Edward M. Catich, of St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa. Father Catich has been involved with the Trajan lettering and its construction since he was a student in Rome in the Thirties. He has since written two books on the subject, The Trajan Inscription in Rome (1961), and The Origin of the Serif (1968).

Through his studies, he has become a major advocate of the theory that the serifs of the majuscule letters were formed by the scribe's brush, after which they were chiseled in the stone by the mason. Most earlier writers, and many contemporary historians of letterforms have argued that the serifs were formed by the tools of the stonecutter.

Father Catich was born in 1906 and when he was orphaned at the age of twelve he was taken into the school in Moosehart, Indiana, operated by the Loyal Order of Moose. It was here that he acquired the skills he applied to the vocation of sign painting.

He retains a great enthusiasm for his good fortune in learning to letter in the broad tradition of the "Chicago Sign Writers" school which came into being about 1880 and which produced lettering that, in the comment of one authority, was "vivid, exuberant, and very skilled."

It was his fascination with the structure of letters that led him to the library of the Chicago Art Institute, and deepened his understanding of art history. In 1931 he made the decision to enter the priesthood, enrolling in St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. He then attended the University of Iowa, from which institution he received his master's degree.

In 1935 he was accepted for the priesthood, and was sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he added, in addition to his theological studies, work in archaeology and paleography. He also had a great opportunity for a more serious study of letterforms with the rich resources offered by residence in Rome. At this time he began his involvement with the origin of the serif, a task which was to occupy his mind for the next twenty-five years and which finally resulted in his first book on the Trajan inscription.

He returned to St. Ambrose, where he now heads the art department, and has since become involved, in addition to his teaching, with the cutting of letters in stone and in slate, in which art he has achieved international prominence. The Cary Collection contains one of the slates Father Catich produced to demonstrate his serif theories. This much, admired example of his lettercutting skill was the gift of Dr. Robert Leslie, the recipient of the Goudy Award in 1973.

In still another field, the creation of stained glass, Father Catich has acquired a reputation in keeping with his attainments as calligrapher, stone, cutter, liturgical artist, and humanist scholar. In all of these, in the comment of Philip Hofer, retired Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts of the Houghton Library at Harvard, "he stands at the top among the world's best."