Barry Moser: Barry Moser, Master Wood Engraver: A Retrospective
Barry Moser is widely acknowledged as the foremost contemporary wood engraver in the world. In 1958 he happened upon an image of Leonard Baskin’s Death of the Laureate in a magazine article and it began his lifelong passion for engraving. A few years later he moved to New England and entered a world of engraving and fine press printing. Since his first attempt, Une Ecraseuse (pictured below) in 1969 he has engraved literally thousands of blocks and developed a mastery of a medium notorious for being difficult and unforgiving. In conjunction with Brandeis University Press’s republication of his seminal work on the subject, Wood Engraving: The Art of Wood Engraving & Relief Engraving, R. Michelson Galleries is proud to celebrate the works of this modern master of his craft.
In Gallery exhibit runs from April 30th-May 30th, 2021
Barry Moser in conversation with author, poet and gallery owner Rich Michelson on the occasion of the new edition of Moser’s classic book “The Art of Wood Engraving & Relief Engraving,” published by Brandeis University Press. Watch the interview below:
Wood Engraving | $27.95
The Art of Wood Engraving & Relief Engraving
Written and illustrated by master wood engraver Barry Moser, this primer on the art of wood engraving is filled with valuable knowledge including how to prepare a printing block; how to think in the medium’s properties of line, shape, and ink; and how to transfer a drawing onto a block. It also offers practical advice on which tools to use for a project and which ink works best. A highly illustrated guide to this art form, Wood Engraving will be useful to experienced and beginner engravers alike. This book features stunning examples of Moser’s art and skill to admire and inspire.
In 1967 Barry Moser moved from Tennessee to New England and was teaching at The Williston Academy in Easthampton, Massachusetts. He was soon befriended by Louis Smith, a glazer, framer, and print collector who introduced him to Leonard Baskin with whom he studied at Baskin’s Gehenna Press. Walking into the pressroom of Gehenna Press was like walking into another age, to a former life. The effect was such that Moser convinced Williston’s administration that the school needed a printing press. They acquired a 12 x 18 Chandler Price clamshell press, that came with a run of Goudy Oldstyle. A corner room of the old Easthampton railroad station was given over to set up Williston’s Castalia Press and there Moser printed his first letterpress, limited edition book, The Red Rag in 1969.
In the spring of 1969 Moser was commissioned to illustrate a trade book, The Flowering Plants of Massachusetts. He became fascinated with plants and plant lore and as a result named his press Pennyroyal.
Late in 1969, Moser began graduate studies in printmaking at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he studied with Jack Coughlin and Fred Becker. On the verge of giving up his quest to master that famously difficult medium of wood engraving, Becker, a master wood engraver himself, encouraged Moser to persist. Under his tutelage Moser produced a group of engravings to accompany Greek epigrams from the Greek Anthology. It was called Bacchanalia, and was the first Pennyroyal book to use wood engravings as illustrations. In 1979 Richard Michelson moved to the Pioneer Valley with the intention to open a contemporary art gallery. On his drive to Northampton Michelson took a dinner break and picked up a small press poetry publication, where he came across an engraving by Barry Moser. Upon reaching his destination, the first call Michelson made was to Moser. R. Michelson Galleries opened its doors with an exhibition of wood engravings by Barry Moser. Rich and Barry have remained close friends and in the 42 years since that first meeting, R. Michelson Galleries was pleased to host a 50th , 75th, and now 80th Birthday retrospective.
Twelve American Writers – 1974
Men of Printing – 1976
In 1982 the Pennyroyal Press edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland appeared and subsequently won the 1983 American Book Award . Following Alice’s success, Pennyroyal published four more large-scale volumes in quick succession: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There in 1982; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus in 1983; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1985; and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also in 1985.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – 1982
See more work from Alice here
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There – 1982
See more work from Looking Glass here
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus – 1983
See more work from Frankenstein here
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – 1985
See more work from Huck Finn here
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – 1985
See more work from Oz here
Master Richard’s Bestiary of Love and Response – 1985
See more work from the Bestiary here
By 1985, Pennyroyal Press was back printing smaller, more intimate volumes, and did so for the next ten years. Moser also began doing illustration, both in engraving and watercolor for children’s trade edition books. On the eve of the millenium, he published the press’s magnum opus, the Pennyroyal Caxton edition of the King James Bible.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde – 1990
The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible – 1999
As the new millennium approached, Barry Moser turned his attention to the King James Bible. Working with a team of expert craftsmen and scholars for more than four years, Moser produced the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible. It is the only twentieth century bible with illustrations for every book of both the Old and New Testaments that were invented and executed by a single artist. There are two hundred and thirty-two engraved illustrations that range from full-page illustrations that measure 7.25 x 11.5 inches to part-page illustrations as small as 3.5 x 5 inches.
See more work from Moser’s Bible here
See more of Moser’s portraits here
After the production of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, Moser spent the next 10 years doing mostly children’s books in watercolor but also chose to do some with his engravings. By this time he had been using a new composite, Resingrave instead of the classic boxwood engraving blocks which had become scarcer. He ceased to use the term wood engraving but instead called them “relief engravings.”
Dracula – 2000
See more work from Dracula here
The Light Within the Light – 2006
The Blessing of the Beasts – 2007
See more work from The Blessing of the Beasts here
By this point, nerve conditions in his hand had made it more difficult to control watercolor brushes so he ceased to produce books with watercolor but he continued to publish books for children and adults with engravings, which he could still do.
Mark Twain’s Book of Animals -2011
See more work from the Book of Animals here
Encheiresin Naturae – 2015
For a exhibit in celebration of his 75th birthday, Moser returned to his early work at the University of Chatanooga where he studied under Abstract Impressionist painter George Cress. He challenged convention by using the exacting medium of engraving to work in abstraction in a collaboration with famed poet Paul Muldoon in Encheiresin Naturae published in a fine press edition by Nashawatuck Press.
See more of Moser’s abstract works here
If one is going to look at the span of Moser’s body of work, it may be interesting to compare these two engravings. The first is Premonitia, done at the beginning of his career by a young enthusiast brimming with talent and a desire to show what he can do. In a medium devised for book illustration and sought after for its capacity for minute detail, not to mention for its difficulty and unforgiving nature, a large print is a daunting task, both to engrave and to print. The subject matter; a dark overgrown garden (a subject he did numerous works about) rich with nostalgia, mystery, and ruin. Above looms a full and brilliant moon. It is a romantic and dreamlike vision but full of life and growth. The second, State of the Union, is done by a seasoned master looking at the real world on the eve of change. Done in the middle of 2016, it was completed just before the presidential election. This is also a premonition but one dense not with lush and overgrown dreams but a concrete and unflinching reality.
Premonitia – 1971 Wood engraving 25.5×15.25 in State of the Union – 2016 Relief Engraving 24×17 in