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October 29 , 1999
Volume 37, No. 6


New Bible Reference
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Moser Creates New Biblical Reference

For a Bible made on earth, it’s been a match made in heaven.

Just this month, renowned designer-illustrator Barry Moser released his illustrated King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, an event celebrated by University faculty and staff who have contributed to the effort.

Moser’s Bible, the only one this century that’s been fully illustrated by one artist, is being produced in three renditions: a $65 trade version by Viking Studio that’s on bookstore shelves now; a $10,000, 400-copy version being hand bound at this moment; and a $30,000, 50-copy deluxe version awaiting interested collectors.

The UI Center for the Book has ties to all three issues:

  • Moser’s typography choices, used in all three versions, were rendered with the consultation of Kim Merker, founder of the Windhover Press and past director of the Center for the Book.
  • For the $10,000 Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, the UI Papermaking Facility produced 2,500 sheets of unbleached muslin rag paper that are used as the endsheets—the first and last blank sheets of paper readers see.
  • For the 50-copy deluxe edition, the University’s papermakers are producing sheets that will line the handmade cases that hold the unbound press proofs.
  • In addition, the University is one of Moser’s first stops on an international tour of lectures and demonstrations about the Bible’s design and the book arts in general. Under the auspices of the Ida Cordelia Beam Visiting Professors program, Moser will present "Tanakh and Testament: A Reprobate Tinkers with Holy Writ" at 8 p.m., Nov. 12 in Shambaugh Auditorium in the Main Library. Moser’s visit also is sponsored by the Center for the Book and the UI Libraries.
  • And, to make the match complete, the Center for the Book is printing and binding a limited-edition essay written by Moser on the art of wood engraving. Moser has donated the 80-page piece "No Shortcuts: An Essay on Wood Engraving" so that any proceeds from the bound essay, due out in February, will go to support the center.

Why Iowa?
Moser’s varied career began with a short stint as a fundamentalist minister before turning to school teaching and illustrating. His wood engravings and watercolor paintings have illustrated more than 200 books, including fine-print classics such as the Arion Press edition of Melville’s Moby-Dick and his own Pennyroyal Press edition of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Moser recounts that in the mid 1970s one of his early studio assistants, Chase Twichell, was an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate who had studied with Merker. It wasn’t long before Moser was making regular visits to Iowa, conducting workshops and collaborating with Merker and later with Tim Barrett of the papermaking facility.

"I have Kim Merker to thank for putting me on to a whole new way of doing wood engravings," Moser says. "A few years ago Kim approached me about doing a portrait of George Bernard Shaw for a piece he was publishing. I was complaining that I couldn’t find good engraving wood. It just was not on the market. Not long afterward, Kim sent me a sample of this plastic resin material that you were supposed to engrave with. I was ridiculing the stuff—it was plastic for crying out loud—when I took an engraving tool and cut the surface of it. Biblically speaking, it was like the scales falling from St. Paul’s eyes on the road to Damascus. The stuff was wonderful."

Over a four-year period, Moser engraved more than 200 illustrations for the Bible, using the plastic Resingrave material and rendering illustrations that evoke the warmth of classic wood engravings.

From Word to Image
As beautiful as the Bible’s binding and typography are, it’s Moser’s illustrations that are getting so much attention.

"No other project has infiltrated my psyche the way this one has," Moser says. "The images were even getting into my dreams. Most of the creative process was about grappling with the images."

Dark landscapes, haunting visions, and faces that look modern enough to be in today’s newspaper are shocking readers’ Hollywood and Sunday school sense of biblical characters.

"I never set out to offend people," Moser says. "I couldn’t do the work honestly, artistically, or intellectually in a way that would be completely inoffensive. I’m just responding to this text as a a single individual. I’m just trying to influence some thinking on the part of the reader."

It’s this push to influence that makes Moser’s work so valuable to students of the book arts, according to Sid Huttner, head of Special Collections at UI Libraries. He has already enjoyed acquainting visitors with Moser’s illustrations, using loose press sheets and other parts of the project on loan from Moser’s studio.

"For students in particular, this is an opportunity to study how a highly trained visual artist approaches a text as widely distributed as the Bible," Huttner says. "Moser has put a great deal of conscious thought into how each page is laid out. Since we live in such a visual age, many people find the relationship of the text and these engaging illustrations to be a very rewarding experience."

Huttner is waiting eagerly for the University’s copy of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible to arrive from the bindery.

A Family Remembrance
The Bible is a gift to the UI Libraries from Curtis Stucki—a former head of special collections, now living in Olympia, Wash.—in memory of his father, a minister who served in Iowa.

"A gift like this enhances the University’s holdings," says Marguerite Perret, coordinator of the Friends of the UI Libraries. "Mr. Stucki’s gift is important for research and study for the Center for the Book, an academic area of study for which Iowa is so very well known."

Lynn Amlie, manager of the Center for the Book Research and Production facility, says the teaching impact of the Bible project has already been felt by the half-dozen students who work with her on a daily basis.

"It is important for our students to be a part of the production on a project of this importance," she says.

"One of the things that’s unique about our facility is that we’re not just a production facility but a research unit, too," Amlie says. "It’s important for us to be involved in a variety of projects, especially those that require high-quality paper combined with more historical aesthetic characteristics."

And while there are no heavenly guarantees, Moser believes the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible will last at least 500 years, due to the care taken in selection of ink, paper, and binding materials.

"Our clients come to us because they want a product that’s going to last a long time," Amlie says. "It means a lot to be part of something that will last for generations to come."

What’s in It for Thee?
Moser promises his lecture on Nov. 12 will be as honest and irreverent as the title suggests.

"I think my teaching is more important than the work in my books or anything," he says. "It has to do with legacies, about my feelings of being part of the past.

"My philosophy of teaching is like the old line: it’s a matter of taking a kid from where he is to where he ain’t.

"As far as being an artist or innovator, I don’t care that that’s what I am," he adds. "I don’t give a darn whether what I do is innovative. I’m concerned about making an object and making it as well as I can. Flannery O’Connor said she didn’t believe God or posterity were served by anything but well-made objects.

"If the object I make well is art, that’s a bonus for me. I don’t set out to make art."


Article by Greg Johnson


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