Margaret Shepherd ’69 Establishes an Endowed Professorship in Religion

July 17, 2019
Portrait of Margaret Shepherd

Margaret Shepherd, a well-known calligrapher, artist, and author, was first introduced to calligraphy during her time as an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence. “A younger art professor, Norberto Chiesa, noticed that I was experimenting with calligraphy pens and offered to teach me the basics. I dug up a clause in the college catalog stating that if a student wanted a course that was not currently offered, she could petition the administration for it. Frank Randall, my don, made my case before the curriculum committee, conquering what I later heard were objections from the fine arts faculty. Only one other student joined us, briefly. Undeterred, we spent the first month on the letter O, the first semester on the Roman capitals, one lesson on Gothic, and I knew I’d found my mission in life. In a way, I’ve simply continued to explore and explain calligraphy for 50 years.”

In her successful and varied career, Margaret Shepherd taught and exhibited around the world, and her many books have helped make calligraphy accessible to a large public worldwide. She also created the “Boston Calligraphy Trail,” featuring 26 alphabet treasures, and lettered a major installation of memorials to the founders of Boston and Boston’s First Church.

Example of calligraphyMargaret Shepherd credits Sarah Lawrence and its visionary philosophy for opening the door to her life as a calligraphy artist, and she has been an active alumna and a generous donor to the College. In addition to establishing two undergraduate scholarship funds, she has graciously opened her home for numerous alumni events.

In February of last year, for example, she hosted “The Scholar and The Artist: A discussion between religion faculty member Cameron C. Afzal and calligrapher Margaret Shepherd ’69,” based on her current project “Song of Songs,” a calligraphy exhibition and upcoming book for Paraclete Press that showcases 45 verses from the Song of Solomon.

Their collaboration led to a wonderful friendship. She explains: “It was a privilege to get to know Ron Afzal decades after I graduated, and to keep finding new connections between religion and art. His intellect and devotion to teaching exemplifies Sarah Lawrence’s approach, which is at the core of what a liberal arts education should be.” As a tribute to him, she has established the Margaret Shepherd ’69 Endowed Professorship in Religion.

Cameron Afzal, one of the College’s most highly esteemed professors, has written on the Apocalypse of John and taught broadly in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, Judaism in the Second Temple Period, the Hebrew Bible, and Late Antique Christian Mysticism since 1992. He served as Associate Dean of the College from 2015-2017. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, and, in addition to teaching, maintains active memberships in the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, and the Catholic Biblical Association.