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Robert Palladino, the Trappist Monk Who Inspired Steve Jobs

Robert Palladino

So I am sure you know that the Mac practically introduced the world of modern computers to modern typography but who was behind all of this? Steve Jobs, of course, but who was he inspired by? To answer this question I would say that the person who practically, albeit indirectly, created the beautiful font was Robert Palladino.

Mr. Palladino was the calligraphy teacher at Reed College in Portland where Steve Jobs sat in on a few of his classes. This experience of learning calligraphy influenced Mr. Jobs so much that he mentioned this class in his famous commencement address of 2005 at Stanford University.

Mr. Palladino died late last month at the formidable age of 83. He had joined the order of Trappist monks in 1950 in New Mexico. Then in 1955, due to his considerable skill in writing, he moved to Lafayette in Oregon. His reputation as a skilled novice brought him to the attention of an icon of the world of calligraphy; Mr. Lloyd Renolds.

Mr. Reynolds helped groom Palladino for the calligraphy program at Reed University. In Palladino’s own words “We corresponded a bit, and one day he came out and spent the entire day helping me to improve my writing,”

At this time in his life, in the year 1968, Palladino left the life of a man of faith and began to study under Reynolds. By 1972, one of the most influential of Palladino’s students came to campus; Mr. Steve Jobs.

Jobs enrolled in Reed that same year but he dropped out of college after the first semester. He still remained on campus and attended classes that piqued his interest and that is how he found Palladino’s course.

About the experience, Jobs was recorded as saying in 2005

“Throughout the campus, every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”

Mr. Palladino was amused that he would most likely “be remembered as being the calligraphy teacher of Steve Jobs especially since Robert did not own and never used a computer” according to Gregory MacNaughten.

Palladino also taught at Portland State University, Marylhurst University, and the Portland Art Museum.

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