Barry Moser signing during museum show

BARRY MOSER

Barry Moser is an artist, book designer, printmaker and lecturer. He was born in 1940, and educated at Auburn University in Alabama. He is now happily transplanted to Massachusetts, where he has steadily become known as one of the foremost wood engravers in North America.

His work, which includes the books of Pennyroyal Press, is represented in numerous collections, museums, and libraries in the U.S. And abroad, including The British Museum, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, The National Library of Australia, The London College of Printing, Harvard University, Cambridge University and Princeton University.

Moser's illustrated books form a list of over 80 titles, including Arion Press' Moby Dick, the University of California Press' The Divine Comedy of Dante, and Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich's Jump. Moser's 1982 Pennyroyal edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, subsequently published by the University of California Press, won the prestigious American Book Award for design and illustration. Alice was followed by Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there which contains 95 wood engravings. Both volumes have gained recognition nationally and internationally and prompted John Ashbery of Newsweek to call Moser's work, "never less than dazzling". Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, was published in 1983. In 1985 Moser published the centenary edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn de Fournival's Master Richard's Bestiary of Love and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each of these limited edition fine press books was brought out later in trade editions by the University of California Press.

Mr. Moser frequently lectures and acts as a visiting artist at universities and institutions across the country. Is publishing enterprise, The Pennyroyal Press, founded in 1970, employs a small staff of creative talent including the world renowned printer, Harold McGrath.

Mr. Moser lives in West Hatfield, Massachusetts in a 19th century farmhouse located in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. He divides his time between designing, publishing, printmaking, painting and sculpting.

MOSER IN WONDERLAND

It was Moser's decision to present Wonderland as seen through Alice's eyes. So we see Alice herself only four times. Barry used his youngest daughter Maddy as a model for his dark-haired Alice, unlike the blonde-haired Disney version, because she bears a startling resemblance to photos of the young Alice Liddell, for whom Caroll wrote the book.

And of course we can expect Moser, a master of book design, to come up with all kinds of innovative ideas for his two "Alices".

One of the insights that came to Moser in his study of the Alice material was through a concordance written by a scholar at the University of Colorado. Moser says he was astonished to learn the number of times the words, "death", "dying", "lone" and "lonely" appear in the text. This is when Moser abandoned the idea of ever seeing Alice excerpt when she's awake. The only time we see Alice within the dream is when she sees herself in the looking glass, which is an announcement of the second book, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Moser states, "I used the mirror image to play the two books against each other -- images from one book being identical in position and outline with the images in the other."

In fact, as Moser himself has explained it, if you pile the two "Alice" books one on top of the other and drive a nail through them both, it would pass through exactly similar points, particularly the eyes in both books. The hatter and the hare in "Alice" and the hatter and the hare in "Looking-Glass" are based on the same two images, and if one traced them both they would be identical and the tracings could be interchanged. But of course, not being ones to drive a nail through a book, which would at any rate reduce the value considerably except at a hardware auction, let's just take his word for it.

THE PLATES

Now, if you'll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I'll tell you all my ideas about Looking-Glass House. First, there's the room you can see through the glass -- that's just the same as our drawing-room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair -- all but the bit just behind the fireplace . . .

Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Through the Looking-Glass

The Chess Problem

White Pawn, Alice, to play, and win in six moves

from Through the Looking-Glass

Chess Pieces

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Red Knight

from Through the Looking-Glass

The White Knight

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Red Queen

from Through the Looking-Glass

The White Queen

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Red Queen

from Through the Looking-Glass

The White Queen

from Through the Looking-Glass

She looked at the Queen, who seemed to have suddenly wrapped herself up in wool. Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again. She couldn't make out what had happened at all. Was she in a shop? And was that really -- was it really a sheep that was sitting on the other side of the counter?

from Through the Looking-Glass

The White King

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Horse

from Through the Looking-Glass

Waiter with Pudding

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Goat

from Through the Looking-Glass

The Frog

from Through the Looking-Glass

"What a fight we might have for the crow, now!" the Unicorn said, looking slyly up at the crown, which the poor King was nearly shaking off his head, he trembled so much.

"I should win easy," said the Lion.

"I'm not so sure of that," said the Unicorn.

"Why, I beat you all round the town, you chicken!" the Lion replied angrily, half getting up as he spoke.

The Lion and the Unicorn

from Through the Looking-Glass

He untied the handkerchief as he spoke, and Alice looked at his wig in great surprise. It was bright yellow like the handkerchief, and all tangled and tumbled about like a heap of sea-weed. "You could make your wig much neater," she said, "if only you had a comb."

The Wasp

from Through the Looking-Glass

ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse

from Through the Looking-Glass

The King and Queen of Hearts

from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

White Rabbit shouting Alice

from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The Jury

from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

"Oh, I've had such a curious dream!" said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers that you have just been reading about; and, when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said, "It was a curious dream, dear, certainly; but now run in to your tear: it's getting late." So Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been.

COAXING AN IMAGE FROM A FLAT PIECE OF WOOD

To engrave or to woodcut, that is the question? Here are some definitions to clear it up for you.

A woodcut is made by drawing a design on a wood block cut parallel to the grain. A knife is used to cut away all areas but the design. These appear white on the finished print. Ink is then applied to the design with a roller and transferred to the paper in a press.

A wood engraving is made by using hard wood, cut against the grain. A burin is used instead of a knife to produce finer detail and more subtle shadings than those of a woodcut. Because the design lines are incised, the effect appears to be white lines on black, the reverse of the woodcut.

Among the recognized masters of the art of wood engraving there are few names. The work of Barry Moser in this field is outstanding. Moser's engravings are amazingly clear in conception and execution. In his "Alice" series he demonstrates his ability to re-think the whole illustrative idea of the book and in no way mimicks the earlier versions.

Besides being a master wood engraver, Moser's genius is most evident at making the book itself a work of art. He says, "The book is my art object." He takes the time to design the complete page, correlating the type with the illustration. He makes the effort to see the book as a whole, not just a picture more or less stuck beside a story text.

ARTISTIC INFLUENCES ON MOSER [Rico and Leonard and Ben and Alice]

The first print Barry Moser ever bought was one done by his New England neighbor, Leonard Baskin. The two had been introduced by mutual friends soon after Moser moved to the area.

Upon being asked by Baskin what he wanted to learn from him, Moser told Baskin, drawing. Moser considers Baskin to be one of the master draftsmen of the 20th century. A series of interactions began; Moser learned a lot about using fine paper, crowquill points, drawing and "something about persistence" -- probably because Baskin was not satisfied with a product until he was satisfied that the artist had achieved everything possible from a drawing. When Leonard Baskin moved to Paris some years ago, leaving his company, Gehenna Press, Moser started a new business with its outstanding pressman, Harold McGrath -- Hampshire Typothetae. With Harold McGrath at the press this venture produced many beautiful books for bibliophiles.

Rico LeBrun's association with Leonard Baskin -- they have collaborated on entire suites of pieces -- has also filtered through to Barry Moser. In his study of printmaking, engraving and especially drawing, he acknowledges his debt to Baskin, LeBrun and most notably to the late Ben Shahn. The influence of Ben Shahn is known through several decades of American draftsmen and printmakers. Moser states that he still rereads Ben Shahn's The Shape of Content annually.

Hence the discernible influences that made the man who with his Pennyroyal Press has re-inspired "Alice" for generations to come.