A request (not for money) and an incentive

Dear Friends of the Endangered Alphabets,

I’m writing to ask you not for money but for suggestions.

This has been a great winter for the Alphabets. In the past six months they’ve been displayed and discussed at Carleton University in Ottawa, at Eastern Tennessee State University, at Harvard, at First Nations University in Regina (Saskatchewan) and most recently at American University in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the recent Kickstarter campaign raised $5,000+ to print books in endangered alphabets for indigenous children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

Where I need your help is in looking ahead. Almost all of those events and bookings were set up several months in advance, as you’d expect, so I need to be planning my Alphabet activities for the second half of 2014 right now.

Several of you have at various times recommended places where you thought the Alphabets might find a temporary home or showcase, and that’s what I’d like from you now: names of universities, libraries, museums or other institutions I can contact and send Alphabet information.

If you know the name of the specific person I should call or email, so much the better. If you yourself are in a position to book the Alphabets, better still!

Much of the basic information about booking the exhibition can be found at http://www.endangeredalphabets.com/?page_id=166.

Oh, and one small incentive: anyone who sends me a promising-looking contact will receive a signed copy of my book Endangered Alphabets.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!


Thank you all so much

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the just-finished successful Kickstarter campaign, whether by pledging money or simply by passing the word along, as I know some of you did. Now we need to send out rewards, get stickers printed up, carve thanks, and most importantly send the first of the four books into production. Thanks again, and please follow our progress toward this worthwhile goal.



Special Incentive!

Our Kickstarter campaign is getting so close to success we can smell it. Just when we think we’re on a roll, though, everything stops again. So I’m offering another incentive: if you support us by clicking HERE and pledging $150, I will carve a pair of monogram initials for you and someone close to you (or perhaps for a couple getting married? These have turned out to be a popular wedding item) in the Roman alphabet or another alphabet of your choice. Click HERE to see what I’m talking about. Wedding Chams for book

Sounds like a win-win-win to me. But please do so as soon as possible, as the Kickstarter has only another 9 days to run, and if we don’t make our goal, we get nothing. Zero. Nada. Nichts. Rien du tout.


Maung in the News

photo-3-280x373Just out for International Mother Language Day, a fine article on our friend, collaborator and team partner Maung Nyeu. Maung and I will be presenting on our work for the indigenous children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts this coming Friday, February 28th, at Harvard. If you’re in the area, contact me or just come by!


International Mother Language Day and the Endangered Alphabets

Just a heads-up on three fronts.

February 21 is International Mother Language Day, a day to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the world’s indigenous languages, many of which are endangered. Here’s the official word: “The United Nations’ (UN) International Mother Language Day annually celebrates language diversity and variety worldwide on February 21. It also remembers events such as the killing of four students on February 21, 1952, because they campaigned to officially use their mother language, Bengali, in Bangladesh.”

In a not unrelated piece of news, an article on the Endangered Alphabets will be appearing in a special edition of the Bangladesh magazine TMAG. I’ll add a link as soon as it’s live.

And we will be launching a Kickstarter on March 1 to raise funds to have two children’s books printed for indigenous kids in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. I’ll add a link to this, too, as soon as it’s live. Stay tuned, and please pass on the news/reblog/retweet so we can continue this incredibly worthwhile project.



Three Recent Pieces

After a burst of carving since the start of the New Year and a trip to the photo studio of the wonderful Tom Way, here are the results.

First, the piece that was featured in a recent blog post: a delightful exercise in Mongolian calligraphy saying “Happy New Year,” sent to me by my friend Zulaa in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. By the way, I noticed at once that it was executed in the shape of a Christmas tree, or whatever a Christmas tree is called in a Buddhist country. What I noticed later was that the vertical Mongolian words stand in the branches of the tree like candles. When I was a boy, we still had clip-on candles for our tree. It’s amazing the entire country didn’t burn down over the holidays.

Mongolian Happy New Year face on TW

Mongolian Happy New Year angled TW

By the way, this image (and images of some of the other Alphabet carvings) is now available on stationery cards, iPhone sleeves, even wall clocks! Click HERE to see.

Next, a gift. Thanks to my friend Colette Ruoff, I’ve become interested in carving in Tibetan–not because Tibetan is exactly an immediately endangered alphabet, but to note the fact that the Chinese authorities in Tibet are now teaching Tibetan children in Chinese, driving a wedge between the people and their history and cultural identity.

This is an amazing piece of walnut, provided by my friend Dave Wilson at Sterling Hardwoods in Burlington, featuring the Tibetan for “moon” and “water,” based on designs by the calligrapher Tashi Mannox, plus an amazing rippling effect produced by nature, wind, wood, and time.

Tibetan moon over water face on TW

Tibetan moon over water angled 2 TW

Finally, perhaps the most creative, and certainly the most serendipitous, of the three. Dave Wilson also handed me a piece of red oak that was something between a treasure and a land mine: it had amazingly turbulent grain, but it also had a wicked crack that threatened to drive splinters into my hand every time I picked it up.

I started out, as usual, by looking at the board (which measured a very irregular 20″ x 8″ or so) horizontally, and nothing came to mind–but then I turned it vertical and at once the grain suggested those fantastic steep little mountains in the Chinese province of Guilin that feature so prominently in Chinese art, the steep verticals of the hills working in parallel with the vertical strips of writing.

At first I thought I might carve the first line of the Tao Te Ching (“The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao”) but it was too long. After a while, I gave up and tried Mongolian calligraphy again, and this time found a perfect two-character phrase that would fit the wood and its characteristic “imperfections” perfectly. I looked up what it meant, and there it was: “sunrise.” As if presented to me like a fait accompli. So of course I carved it and then painted it gold for the sunrise:

Mongolian sunrise face on 2 TW

Mongolian sunrise angled 1 TW

One day, if I ever find the right piece of wood, I’d like to recreate that sunrise about eight feet tall. Can you imagine it?

Who is This Mongolian Calligrapher?

My friend Zulaa O from Mongolia sent me this wonderful piece of Mongolian calligraphy as a New Year’s greeting–appropriately, as it says “Happy New Year” in classical Mongolian bichig characters.


Original Mongolian Happy New Year!


I went to work with a nice piece of pau amarillo, or yellowheart, and came up with this rendering:

Mongolian Happy New Year Carved

Don’t worry–there’s a much better photo coming soon, from the amazing Tom Way. But I’d like to attribute my work to the original calligrapher, whom I suspect may be Sukhbaatar Lkhagvadorj.
Does anyone know? Has anyone got contact information for the artist?

News, and New Items

You may be as pleased as we are to check out the excellent article in the Vermont weekly newspaper Seven Days about the latest activities of the Endangered Alphabets. Text by Ethan de Seife, photos by Matt Thorsen, including a great aerial shot of the latest carving-in-progress, a fluid and delightful piece of Mongolian calligraphy that reads “Happy New Year” in the shape of a Christmas tree.

In other news, as they say, the two gorgeous font books designed by our U.K. team member Tom Sanalitro are now printed and on sale. For photos, more information, and links to purchase them (and support the Endangered Alphabets Project), click HERE.

And the first Endangered Alphabets playing card packs have arrived. As soon as my laptop cools down I’ll add photos and a Buy link there as well.



A Christmas Present–from Kalmykia

A fortuitous meeting on Christmas Eve
A fortuitous meeting on Christmas Eve

When the Endangered Alphabets team was at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer in Washington D.C., the tent next to ours was occupied by singers and dancers of the Kalmyk Republic, also known as Kalmykia.

The Kalmyks, who originally came west with Genghis Khan and settled in the Caucasus, are a remarkable people in many ways. They are the only Tibetan Buddhists in Europe. They have preserved, to a considerable degree, the yurts and equestrian skills of their Mongol heritage. And some of them–very few–still read and write the script they call todo bitchig, or Classical Mongolian.

Hearing there was an endangered alphabet in the very next tent on the Washington Mall, I went over to say hi, and in due course one of the troupe wrote out the words “Kalmyk Republic” in todo bitchig for me to carve. In due course this came about, and thanks to a gorgeous piece of sapele, it came out very well:


Photo by the wonderful Tom Way.
Photo by the wonderful Tom Way.


By now, of course, the piece of wood was in Burlington, Vermont, and the Kalmyks were not. So I asked the excellent David Harrison for an address to send it, and he told me about the Tulip Foundation and Naran Badushov. I mailed the large, cardboarded carving to New Jersey, and to my amazement got an email from Naran saying he and his family were going to be spending Christmas week in Burlington, and could we meet?

Of course we met. Naran, whose family was displaced from Kalmykia by the potent combination of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, grew up in Howell, New Jersey. His grandparents instilled in him a pride in his heritage–a heritage that has a fascinating place in U.S. history as the culture that brought Tibetan Buddhism (temples, monks, worship, and all) to this country.

In recent years he has founded the Tulip Foundation to preserve and educate about Kalmyk language, culture and tradition. A dignified, cheerful, passionate man, he spoke in detail about his trips to Kalmykia and to Dzungaria, the traditional homeland of the Mongols in present-day northwest China.

We had a great time together, and I suspect many carvings may come from this beginning. Perhaps the most exciting possibility, though, is that Naran has already started creating in Kalmyk the same kinds of children’s books that the students of Champlain College are already developing for the indigenous children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We plan to collaborate with him, bringing yet another endangered alphabet into the fold.

Needless to say, we’d love to hear from anyone who has any additional information on any of these subjects, and Kalmyks the world over may want to contact Naran through the comments section of this website or through the Tulip Foundation.

Season’s greetings to you all!


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