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Artist finds grace in lettering

"I don't think there's anybody in Tampa Bay who's busier than I am," Helen Boyle said on a sunny Wednesday morning. She made her point as she gave a tour of her two-story home, with its walls full of pieces of her completed art and Florida room containing several works in the making.

"I just love doing it," she said of the calligraphy, ceramics and paintings she has made for her family and others. "I'm always making something. Not just because someone wants it."

Instead, the Michigan native who came to St. Petersburg in 1950, said the graceful lettering and elegant tile designs are "second nature."

Over the years, Mrs. Boyle, 76, has taught calligraphy at a local church, high school and art store as well as in her home. Her most recent exhibition was at the main branch of the post office at 3135 First Ave. N, where a collection of decorated envelopes was on display from May 20 through July 11.

The envelope designs mimic those of the stamps placed on them. On the envelopes whose stamps bear the likenesses of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny and Fanny Brice, Mrs. Boyle's name appears with whimsical caricatures peeking through the letters.

"It's been wonderful," said postal employee Joyce Sutherland, who coordinated the exhibit, which included other artists' works.

Mrs. Boyle has loved art since childhood, when she took drawing classes and "spent an awful lot of time doodling. I called myself the happy doodler," she said with a laugh. Then, at Dunbarton College in Washington, D.C., where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1942, she indulged her love of art again.

"Each year in college you could take an elective," she said. "I always chose art."

She took up ceramics to help a friend. It was 1964, Mrs. Boyle recalled, and she and her husband were at a dinner party.

On the wall the couple had a plate commemorating their wedding and four smaller plates celebrating each child. The problem was, there were six children. The artist who created the first four couldn't be found and the two youngest boys had no plates.

"She said to me, "Do you think you could do it?,' " Mrs. Boyle recalled her friend asking. "I said, "I don't know, but I'll try.' "

The sons got their plates.

"I get an idea and I think, oh, I'll do it this way," Mrs. Boyle said, explaining her creative process. In her living room about 45 painted ceramic tiles arranged in a walnut table tell the story of the Boyle family. There are college insignias, road maps that show vacation spots, even an Easter bunny.

Calligraphy winds its way through much of her work. Penned quotations stand in frames.

"Sometimes I sit down and sketch," said Mrs. Boyle, mother of five and grandmother of 12. "I have to have an idea."

"If there's a problem (with an artwork), I figure it out. They're not unsolvable," said Mrs. Boyle, who plans to begin teaching again this fall. Recent hip surgery has imposed a hiatus.

"I was addressing wedding envelopes this morning," she said. And when her skills are commissioned to honor such special events, she shares in the happiness.

"I enjoy it," she said, "pure and simple."

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