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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Jim Landwehr

The Story of My Signature Tattoos Started on a Night Punctuated with a Bottle of Irish Whisky • Nick Landwehr

Brett Rawson



The story of my signature tattoos started on a night with my college roommate punctuated with a bottle of Irish whisky.

The justification for such a night was the recent passing of my father. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing life, music, girls, and many other places our liquor-induced conversations took us. Finally, we came to the topic of tattoos and what kind we would get if we were to ever get one. Together, we came up with the idea of having our parents’ signatures from our birth certificates tattooed onto our arms. Our rationale being that it was the signatures they used to "sign" us into their possession. 

Anyway, after I had those tattoos inked on my inner arms, I felt the need to also pay tribute to my grandparents who had done so much for me. I tried to think of an important document which they would have signed which held significance in their own lives. My best idea was that I would use my grandfather's signature from his military discharge papers after the conclusion of WWII, and my grandmother's signature from their wedding certificates. Both to me seem to be two of the most important times they autographed their lives.


Being a writer, when I first saw the call for images for National Handwriting Day, I immediately submitted a couple of my handwritten poem drafts, both of which made it into the exhibition

Then, after thinking for a bit, I thought of my nephew Nick and his handwriting signature tattoos. He is a huge tattoo fan and has eight total signature tattoos amongst the many other beautiful works that adorn his arms. I remember when I first saw the tattoo of my mother and father's signatures on him. I instantly recognized my mother’s with her signature Stonehenge ‘M’ at the beginning of Mary. But seeing my father’s was a little haunting for me, probably because I’d never seen his handwriting before. He was beaten and killed in a bar at the age of 42, when I was just five years old. So seeing his signature on Nick, was a bit like discovering an old letter in the attic from the war. I guess it just shows how someone's signature can evoke an emotional response. So it goes with all handwriting, I think.

Being Nick’s godfather, the two of us have always been very close. Despite my moving away to Wisconsin in 1986, he and I still got together whenever I made it back to town to visit. In 2014, I wrote a book titled Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir. The book details trips I took to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with my brothers nearly thirty years ago and, more recently, with our kids. In 2012 we brought Nick with us to fill in for my brother Rob who passed away from cancer in 2011. Nick shared a canoe with Rob’s daughter, Alison, and it became known as the orphan canoe, (Nick’s father had passed away suddenly in 2005). On Father’s Day of that trip, we sprinkled some of Rob’s ashes over the waters of the BWCA, a place he loved much like Roy had. This event plus being around his uncles and cousins in such a remote region, impacted Nick in ways he never expected.

As a tribute to myself, his grandfather Roy and the Boundary Waters area, he got a tattoo of the picture that was used for the book’s cover of Roy holding a walleye in a canoe while on a BWCA trip in the 60’s. When Nick surprised me with a picture of the tattoo I was both flattered and deeply moved. 

The One Who Wrote Back • Jim Landwehr

Brett Rawson

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It was writing that brought us together. 

In 1986, I moved from my hometown of St. Paul Minnesota to Waukesha, Wisconsin just outside of Milwaukee for a new job. My brother Rob was also living away from home as a student in upstate New York. He and I wrote for a period of time and in one of his letters to me, he included letters from three of his female friends on his dorm floor. He’d told them I had just moved to Waukesha and didn’t really know anyone and that he thought it would brighten my spirits to receive some letters from them.

I don't remember exactly what each of the three had to say. Most of the letters were introductory in nature and seemed like honest attempts to be nice and cure me of my homesick loneliness. They were all away from their families as well, and we were all close in age, so had music, books and college life in common to talk about.

I was, of course, flattered that 3 women would take the time to write, so I wrote each of them individual letters back. Only one wrote back. 

For a year and a half.

Donna and I became 20th century pen pals of sorts. This was before the age of e-mail, faxes, texting and Skype. Long distance calls were expensive. Postage for a letter was about a quarter.

So we wrote, and we wrote, and we wrote. Short letters, long letters, letters about the trials of college and a new job, and roommates, and philosophy and religion, family, music, and books. We shared joys, concerns, doubts, beliefs and bad jokes. I sometimes took my writing to silly mediums like writing on napkins or the back of maps, just to keep it interesting. One of the things I recall her liking was my "Random Observations" which covered most subjects under the sun. Near the end of our writing things got a little spicier and flirtatious, neither of us knowing what the other would think, but daring to "go there" nonetheless.

Someone once said that writing is not a bad way to get to know someone – to become friends through writing before pursuing a relationship. I know it was true for me as it was sometimes easier to write things from the heart than it was to say them to someone I hardly knew.

Then one day she called. She said she was thinking about paying a visit and wondered what I'd think? I, of course, said I would love to see her. Both of us knew it would likely change our relationship forever.

And, man, did it ever.

I greeted her at the airport with a single red rose. We went to dinner at the Chancery and out to see the movie "Light Years" at the coolest theatre in Milwaukee, the Oriental. On the way home, "our song" came on the radio in the car, oddly enough, because it wasn't a big top 40 hit. When we got home we stayed up late and talked, and talked.

During the summer of 1989 she did an internship in Brookfield Wisconsin, which enabled us to try dating without five states between us. We were engaged that summer and married on June 16th, 1990. This past year we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary.

Looking back, it’s hard to say how this courtship would have played out in these modern times. Email, Skype and texting seem so impersonal compared to the anticipation of a letter from across the country. My wife saved every letter I sent her. In a fit of cleaning I threw most of hers out just before we were married. I managed to find a number from her that are post-engagement, but everything else is lost in the physical sense.  What remains, are the memories and feelings of that time. I still cherish a handwritten letter from anyone. It is a lost art, one that we pursued with a passion so long ago. It’s my feeling that the emotional outpouring that goes into a letter is felt on the other end in a mystical way that is lost in an electronic medium. 

I do know that it worked something special for us. To this day she says that my words were what attracted her to me. There must have been something in hers that drew me to her, as well.

It’s amazing what one simple letter can become.