New York, NY — A couple of weeks ago I was in NYC. Typically, when I go up to visit NYC, I like to browse and stock up on calligraphy supplies and paper stock. In search of specialty shops, I came across a website for J. Herbin. It's my fault for not reading carefully, but I misread the website thinking there was a retail shop called J. Herbin, located in Chelsea. So the next day, my sister Maria and I set out to find this shop.
We found the street number, but the door led to a freight elevator past a few trash dumpsters. Despite our apprehension, we pushed forward and got on the freight elevator. We looked really out of place, but our fellow elevator riders paid us no mind. We eventually got to the right floor and entered through the door. In that moment, like a record scratching, Maria and I looked around the offices and then at each other. Our confused looks signaled to the employees that we were lost. I explained to a very nice woman (I think her name was Christine, forgive me if I'm wrong) that I was looking for a calligraphy shop named J. Herbin. She explained that this was the office of Exaclair, a wholesaler of J. Herbin and other fine calligraphy products, and that there is no retail shop. Embarrassed, Maria and I were ready to shuffle are way back to the freight elevator.
But to our surprise, she felt so bad that we came up all this way—and in the freight elevator no less (there was an actual elevator for employees and guests)—that she told us to sit down and have a look at their catalog. She asked more questions and told me they have sample nibs that I could see. Though still hesitant, Maria and I sat down. Then she returned with a Rhodia pad, various holders, a bottle of ink, and a wooden box full of countless Brause nibs. She handed me a roll of paper towels and left us to do my thing.
Later Karen, the VP, came around to introduce herself and I told her about myself. She told us to take our time, test the nibs, and feel free to take samples home. I was so taken aback by their generosity, I thought I had misheard. And then, Karen again encouraged me to take samples—several different kinds of Brause nibs, including the Brause Rose. I thanked her profusely for her and her colleagues' graciousness and generosity. We exchanged business cards, and Maria and I left through the office's front door and down the official elevator, realizing that the actual office entrance was just a few store fronts from where we first entered.
As a person, I appreciate this encounter so much because it demonstrates the kindness and openness people are capable of, even when they have nothing to gain in return. As a calligrapher, I am grateful that they were so generous with their time and resources. In this world where handwriting and penmanship are slowly disappearing, I like to think that we both recognized our mutual love for the art and that this encounter was a true moment of shared understanding.
My gratitude and best wishes to Karen and her colleagues at Exaclair. Looking forward to crossing paths again!