Moser, who is also teaching a woodcut course this semester, has broad experience: designer, printmaker, painter, illustrator, printer, author, teacher and lecturer. Born in Tennessee, he was schooled at Auburn University, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and, for graduate work, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is represented in many prestigious collections, including the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, Harvard and Princeton universities and the Library of Congress. His body of work numbers almost 200 titles, including Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which won the National Book Award for Design and Illustration in 1983.
Samples from other books -- woodcuts from the Centenary Pennyroyal Press edition of Huckleberry Finn and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz -- decorate the walls of the temporary studio at the Clarke School for the Deaf that Smith is borrowing during the fine arts center renovation.
Most often called an illustrator and a designer, Moser says he thinks of himself as a teacher. He taught "The Bible as Art" with Karl Donfried, Elizabeth Woodson Professor of Religion and Biblical Literature, last year and has taught at Princeton, the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Rhode Island, among others, but even now, "this is as much a learning experience for me as it is for the students," he says. He then muses: "I think it was Mark Twain who said 'there are teachers who teach subjects, there are teachers who teach students and there are teachers who teach themselves.'" Moser likes to think of himself as belonging to the latter group.
A prolific reader, his "teaching moments" are peppered with quotations or references to writers and artists whose comments or work illustrate the points he is making-during just one class, he cited historian Jacques Barzun; writers Richard Wilbur, James Dickey, and Flannery O'Connor; and artists Jasper Johns and Chuck Close.
Though he instructs students in setting metal type and clearly has a passion for the old ways, Moser says he hasn't set metal type for his own projects in at least 20 years. "In the early days of phototype, I would have nothing to do with it; you could always spot it." But it's vastly improved and "what I can do now with the computer, I could never do with metal; it's a delicious irony."
The Pedagogy of Typography
by Ann E. Shanahan '59
So why would anyone want to do all the hard work of setting metal type, if they could use desktop publishing software? Why would more Smith students than the class can accommodate sign up for "Introduction to Printing," taught during spring term this year by eminent illustrator and designer Barry Moser? Why would students majoring in religion or Russian literature want to learn to set type?
"Because I like books," says Judy Ellman '02. "I'm concentrating in graphic arts," explains art major Julia Wood '03. Senior Hallie Silva's interest was fueled by an internship she did last summer with a bookbinder. Cecily Dyer '03 comes by her interest naturally: her mother is an illustrator, and Moser has been a family friend for years. It's clear that, for all 16 students in the class, taking a course with Barry Moser is a special opportunity. In Moser's course, students spend six hours of class time each week (three hours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons) in the quiet, concentrated work of manipulating -- with tweezers and their fingers -- tiny pieces of metal type. Moser circulates, doing individual critiques and, from time to time, calling for a "gather-round" or announcing a "teaching moment." Taking students' questions as his text, he explains how to use the metal saw or how setting type is a "two-way conversation. I want the type to tell me what it wants to do. I have to listen to the type."
Barry Moser, Lauren Lydic '02 and Judy Ellman '02 (left to right), during a "teaching moment" in Moser's class "Introduction to Printing." / Photo by Fish/Parham
In their first exercise, the students set a Latin phrase in uppercase letters, using one of the typefaces sorted alphabetically in big partitioned drawers-Bembo, Albertus, Romulus, Baskerville, Lutetia. (Senior Lauren Lydic's epigram is Tum denique homines nostra intellegimus bona, quom quae in potestate habuimus, ea amisimus.) Moser analyzes the proofs that students "pull" on the small handpress. Using a red pen on Lydic's work, he indicates where there is too much or too little space between the letters, for example, or too little space between the lines. He likens the proofs to a smooth gravy, and areas marked to lumps in that gravy, and, he says, "you don't want any lumps in gravy." Apparently an easygoing fellow, Moser is, however, very precise in his directions to students. "It's hard not to be a little dictatorial. [When setting type], certain things have to be done certain ways."
The initial exercise is in Latin so
that "we can focus not on the words but on the visual aspect,"
explains Lydic, a comparative literature and Russian major. (Since
most of the students have not studied Latin, the meaning of the
words doesn't interfere with how they look.) The "visual
aspect" is at the heart of typography, Moser says. And to
reinforce that message, he shows the class a portion of a video
made in conjunction with his most ambitious work, the 1999 Pennyroyal
Caxton Press edition of the Holy Bible, illustrated with 233
of his original engravings. In the videotape, type designer Matthew
Carter, whose Galliard typeface is used in this edition of the
Bible, says: "What [a type designer] actually designs is
word shapes. What people read is not individual letters-as your
eye moves down the line, what you recognize is the overall shape
of the words-so how the letters combine into a word and form
a legible word shape is really at the heart
After the Latin proverbs are satisfactorily settled on the page, the students set the translations for their phrases in up-per and lowercase, in a different point size and perhaps in italic type instead of Roman, and they alternate Latin and translated lines, trying to achieve, once again, a pleasant arrangement. (In Lydic's case, the translation is "We mortals realize the value of blessings only when we have lost them.") For the final version, students will use black ink for the quotation and red ink for the translation, which they are allowed to paraphrase "to aid and abet the aesthetics of their arrangements," says Moser.
Admittedly, trying out different sizes, colors and placement of type would be infinitely easier and quicker on a computer. But there are some shortcuts even with metal type: In another gather-round, Moser shows the students how to cut the Latin and English lines on the proofs into strips and lay them down (using hot wax) on a sheet of paper for a preview of how they will look. When done right, Moser says, the composition should look "inevitable." Eventually the class will produce a limited, bound edition of the quotations and, perhaps later in the semester -- "because they are doing so well," says Moser -- a second small book of short biographies of women printers. The long-standing Smith College press name, Apiary Press, is being resuscitated for these titles.
Moser realizes that most of his Smith students will not become typesetters. "What we teach at a liberal arts college like Smith is connoisseurship," he tells them. "It will make you a more sensitive and educated viewer of fine books and printing."
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