Armenian artist keeps medieval drawings alive

Newly released book, 'Seeroon Darer' features local artist's works.

February 20, 2014|By Brittany Levine,
  • Seeroon Yeretzian, owner of Rosslin Gallery in Glendale, and her new book featuring ornate Armenian letters.
Seeroon Yeretzian, owner of Rosslin Gallery in Glendale,… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

The front desk at Roslin Art Gallery used to be where Seeroon Yeretzian would sketch fantastical drawings of peacocks, serpents and colorful flora that, with a mix of oils and gold foil, took on an illuminated, glow-in-the-dark quality.

VIDEO: Artist Seeroon Yeretzian painting "Heavenly Peacocks"

But now, the Glendale artist sits at that same desk, mostly motionless, unable to draw. Her muscles have been frozen by a degenerative disease.

“It’s terrible. My hands are gone,” Yeretzian said, using her eyes to select each letter of her sentence on a computer screen that repeats her selections verbally, giving her a digital voice.

About two years ago, Yeretzian was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Before the disease made her muscles decline, though, she became obsessed with drawing ornate Armenian initials, illustrated letters that have their roots in medieval Armenia.

She became famous for an intricate poster of the Armenian alphabet that was printed in 1991. Her drawing can now be found in Armenian households throughout the world, on greeting cards and mouse pads. Several people have had her intricate letters tattooed on their bodies, her son, Arno Yeretzian, said.


Even after the alphabet poster launched her to stardom within the worldwide Armenian community, she continued painting her illunimated letters. She drew so many over the years that she decided to compile her life’s work into a 245-page book that was released to the public this month.

The book, “Seeroon Darer,” which translated into English means “Pretty Letters,” features hundreds of her drawings as well as historical background and symbolism of the ancient Armenian art form that she repurposed for the 20th and 21st centuries.

Yeretzian’s interest in the initials, which were first drawn by so-called “illuminators” as a way to spread the word of God, began when a man, who would later become a lifelong friend, walked into her latehusband’s Armenian bookstore 25 years ago looking for a complete Armenian alphabet done in the illuminated style. His search inspired Yeretzian to make one of her own.

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