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Orange County Focus

LAGUNA BEACH : 'Scribe' Still Looking for Write Offer

February 03, 1990|LESLIE HERZOG

Sam Schweitzer, 87, feels good about his life. Happily married and a proud father, he works hard, teaches, bowls and is active in community organizations. But one thing is missing--a student to follow in his footsteps.

"For 17 years, I've been waiting for someone from the high school to come over and get free lessons, help me, and someday take over part of my business," he said. "Or I tell them, 'If you take it seriously, I'll teach you everything I know for $100.' But no one takes me up on it."

Schweitzer is widely known as the Laguna Scribe, a master calligrapher and illuminator who painstakingly labors over the intricate lettering and coloring for which he is in high demand. His hand-crafted scrolls have been presented to Bob Hope and Queen Elizabeth II, but mostly his business is creating awards, invitations and announcements for Southern California clients.

Samples of his work spill from the studio's shelves and line the walls of his hillside home. In the den, there are award scrolls he made for his wife, Eve, in acknowledgement of the support she has given him over the years.

In the hall are displayed the red candy box-top silk hearts he paints for her on Valentine's Day each year with sayings such as, "I'm still sweeping the snows of love on the mountaintop of happiness with you."

And in the living room, gold-leafed calfskin parchments with biblical and poetic quotations adorn every wall.

Schweitzer said he does things with beauty in mind, just as the monks did in the medieval times.

"I try to instill beauty in everything I do, whether it's lettering, illumination or layout," he said. "But it looks like people these days are incensed by something that doesn't look modern. They think they will be called old-fashioned and they think it's a chore to learn all this. It's so easy to put a few brush strokes together and call it art. They say, 'Let's do it the easy way and the hell with beauty.' "

Schweitzer has been an artist since graduating from the Cleveland Art Institute in 1926. For the next 47 years, he was an advertising artist. When he was 65 and living in Beverly Hills, he and his wife took a ride to Laguna Beach and decided to retire there.

"It had never entered my mind to retire, but I thought it sounded like a good idea," he said. "I figured I'd start taking it easy, but I also wanted something to keep my hands and mind busy."

He heard that Donald Jackson, the Queen of England's scribe, was giving a course at UC Santa Cruz. Schweitzer attended and, after returning to Laguna Beach, his business was born.

"You can do anything in this town, provided you have the patience and talent and stick around until people get to know you," he advised.

In addition to his work, Schweitzer has given private lessons to a Wisconsin monk and other students. He has taught his art through the Laguna Beach Recreation Department, the Laguna Beach High School and Coastline Community College. This year, he will teach for the first time at the Art Institute of Southern California, using a textbook he wrote himself.

"The book tells everything anyone would need to go into business," he said. "People say any artist is crazy for writing a book like that, but I'm old enough that I hope someone else will finally do it."

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