Moser Creates New Biblical Reference
For a Bible made on earth, its 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.
Mosers Bible, the only one this century thats been fully illustrated by one artist, is being produced in three renditions: a $65 trade version by Viking Studio thats 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 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 wasnt 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 couldnt 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 stuffit was plastic for crying out loudwhen I took an engraving tool and cut the surface of it. Biblically speaking, it was like the scales falling from St. Pauls 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
"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 todays newspaper are shocking readers Hollywood and Sunday school sense of biblical characters.
"I never set out to offend people," Moser says. "I couldnt do the work honestly, artistically, or intellectually in a way that would be completely inoffensive. Im just responding to this text as a man...as a single individual. Im just trying to influence some thinking on the part of the reader."
Its this push to influence that makes Mosers 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 Mosers illustrations, using loose press sheets and other parts of the project on loan from Mosers 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 Universitys copy of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible to arrive from the bindery.
A Family Remembrance
"A gift like this enhances the Universitys holdings," says Marguerite Perret, coordinator of the Friends of the UI Libraries. "Mr. Stuckis 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 thats unique about our facility is that were not just a production facility but a research unit, too," Amlie says. "Its 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 thats going to last a long time," Amlie says. "It means a lot to be part of something that will last for generations to come."
Whats in It for Thee?
"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: its a matter of taking a kid from where he is to where he aint.
"As far as being an artist or innovator, I dont care that thats what I am," he adds. "I dont give a darn whether what I do is innovative. Im concerned about making an object and making it as well as I can. Flannery OConnor said she didnt believe God or posterity were served by anything but well-made objects.
"If the object I make well is art, thats a bonus for me. I dont set out to make art."
by Greg Johnson