February 22nd: Edward Gorey & Valerie Sutton

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates artist and author Edward Gorey, born February 22, 1925. And in a Speaking Up first, this is actually the second year in a row that a Doodle has been posted on this date — last year, the February 22nd Doodle honored physicist Heinrich Hertz, and over here, we honored Edna St. Vincent Millay.

This year, we’ll learn more about Valerie Sutton, inventor and developer of the eponymous Sutton Movement Writing system; as soon as I started learning about her for this post, I wanted to learn more!


Sutton, born February 22, 1951, started her career as a ballerina, eventually working with the Royal Danish Ballet. To keep track of movements and steps, she developed a visual shorthand, based on stick figures, for her own personal use. As a child, Sutton had a skin condition that often left her too ill to dance, motivating her to develop this approach to “writing” dance. During her time in Denmark, however, this system became professionally useful to record some particular steps used by that company. Eventually, Sutton published her notation in textbooks. Today, Sutton Movement Writing can be used to visually record the movements of dance, sign languages, mimes/gestures, sports, and other movements of humans and animals.

Valerie Sutton, photographed by Barry Slobin, in 1985 (from http://www.valeriesutton.org/).

Valerie Sutton, photographed by Barry Slobin, in 1985 (from http://www.valeriesutton.org/).

SignWriting, in particular, has been used widely and is the standard notation used for signed languages. SignWriting has the advantage of accommodating not just the positioning of hands and fingers, but also facial expressions, posture, and complicated grammatical syntax. It’s now supported by software and other technological tools that make it widely useful and applicable, and Sutton works to continuously improve and develop the system.

You can learn more about Sutton’s work and the applications of DanceWriting and SignWriting on her website, www.valeriesutton.org, and follow her on Twitter @SignWriting.

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