MFA in the Book Arts Program History

Built upon a recorded interview with GLENN HOUSE at his Gordo, Alabama clay studio, with notes by JIM WILDER.
Interview by Steve Miller, October 2006.

Larry McGehee, a graduate of Transylvania University at the time Dr. McLain was its president; executive vice president at UA; chancellor at University of Tennessee, and later vp at Wofford College, plus professor in religion there, wrote on June 21, 2004:

"We count it one of the greatest blessings of our accumulated years that a few true printers have crossed our path. In college in Lexington, Kentucky, in the mid-1950s, we discovered the printing of the famous printer and artist, Victor Hammer, creator of the American Uncial type, retired from the college but living a block away, and of his wife, Carolyn Reading Hammer. We knew a few works of one of Hammer’s patrons and students, Joe Graves, a civic leader. And later, in the 1960s, we came to know, and to worship, Raymond F. McLain, another Hammer student and patron, who operated his own press as pastime while serving as the University of Alabama’s academic vice president, and who established an anachronistic but splendid hand-press printing program within the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama.” From ‘Southern Seen’, 6-21-2004 article from Wofford College."Jim Wilder 11-10-06

Raymond F. McLain

  • Illustrious career in higher education
  • President of Eureka College, Eureka, Illinois
  • President, Transylvania University, 1939-1951
  • President, American University, Cairo, Egypt
  • VP-Academic Affairs, The University of Alabama, 1967-

Frank Rose, one of McLain’s VPs at Transylvania University, became President of The University of Alabama. Rose brought McLain to UA as his VP-Academic Affairs in the 1960s.

R. Hunter Middleton, Ludlow type designer, Chicago

Joseph Graves, Gravesend Press, Lexington, KY

1948

The Renaissance Society, Chicago, held an exhibit of Victor Hammerpaintings and books in Chicago, and here he was introduced by R. Hunter Middleton to two friends from Kentucky, Raymond F. McLain, president of Transylvania University, and Joseph C. Graves, Sr. a trustee of the College. Following this meeting, Victor was asked to come as Artist-in-Residence to Transylvania, and to set up his press there. He accepted the offer, and moved from Aurora to Lexington in September 1948.

McLain and the Dean of the newly-established Library School, James D. Ramer, got to know each other. Ramer brought to UA a passion for early books and printing from Emory University. That melded well with McLain’s love and acquaintance with letterpress printing.

"Ramer and McLain seemed to have had a marvelous relationship. I can remember on occasions when I was setting type or printing something for myself overhearing many wonderful conversations between the two. Ramer was clearly supportive and should be so acknowledged. And then of course Raymond knew how to get things done with friendly persuasion."Jim Wilder 11-09-06

Early 70s

Dr. McLain asks Glenn House Sr., the first full-time staff artist for University of Alabama Publications, part of University Relations, to help him mount an exhibition of McLain’s Hobby Horse Press printed works at Rose Administration Building. McLain printed primarily on an Adana tabletop press.

1972

Dr. McLain teaches a fine printing class for his new concept, Interim Term. Journalism had earlier abandoned a clamshell printing press.

A decision was made that a hands-on printing class should be part of the Library School curriculum to augment Ramer’s History of Books and Printingcourse. A room was created for the Typographic Laboratory during the planning stages for the Library’s School’s new fifth-floor quarters in the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library. Kim Merker, from the University of Iowa was brought in and advised all parties about the layout of such a space, although few if any of his recommendations were followed.

James C. Wilder, director of University Relations, and earlier a UA journalism major and Crimson White editor, became interested in printing as a result of a connection with Dr. McLain. He encourages Glenn House Sr. to get involved with McLain’s letterpress printing initiative. Wilder was by that time printing on an Adana tabletop press, as well as the clamshell press in the Typographic Laboratory.

Ca 1973

The Alabama Press Association awards a grant to the printing enterprise at the Library School. It was used for purchasing type, type cabinets, and other related printing equipment.

R. Hunter Middleton sells the Reliance hand press to UA. UA will not purchase an old, used press. Eventually Middleton gives the press to the Library School.

1974

Dr. McLain, academic vice-president by day and teaching two night printing classes (7-8 students each) by night, is approaching the mandatory retirement ago of 70. Jim Wilder, who by now is the director of University Relations, is helping teach the classes.

1974

Dr. McLain drafts Glenn House Sr. to the Graduate School of Library Service to help teach the printing courses—a half-time position (plus half-time working with Jim Wilder in the Office of University Relations). He had been impressed with House’s calligraphy and his work for the university. Dr. McLain and Jim Wilder teach Glenn House, Sr. to print on the clamshell press.

"The first few times and maybe the first few years the basic printing course was actually taught in an Engineering classroom. I took the course over there, not in the Library. It included wood block cutting… I taught the basic course one summer (1974). I had a class of four students."Jim Wilder

1975 – Alabama Book Arts Conference

Attendees: R. Hunter Middleton, Larry Lou Foster, Glenn House, Carolyn Hammer (who invites House to study the hand press in Lexington, after watching him attempt a demo on the Middleton Reliance hand press), Dwight Agner, and others.

1975

Glenn House Sr. goes to Lexington for two weeks to learn to print on the hand press from Carolyn Hammer., as well as studying calligraphy with Calvert Guthrie.

House is made a full-time tenure-track instructor.

Carolyn Hammer goes to Verona, Italy, to have the 2-volume Hammer biography printed by Martino Marderstieg. There, Gabriel Rummonds sought her out. He was interested in teaching in a US book arts program. She contacts Alabama on his behalf.

1977

Gabriel Rummonds occasionally taught Descriptive Bibliography, andPrinting on the Hand Press at UA in the Library School. Rummonds taught letterpress printing on and off for eleven years, from 1977-88. The MLS degree allowed a concentration in Book Arts. UA gets second hand press and first Vandercook proof press.

Carolyn Whitesel, of Lexington, bound the first UA Gorgas Oak Press book.

1978

UA sponsors a 6-week workshop in Verona, Italy, attended by House, UA student Brad Hutchinson, four Lexingtonians, and others.

1981

Glenn House Sr. spends a week with Ken Botnick and Steve Miller at Red Ozier Press in New York City, learning the basics of printing on the Vandercook.

1981

First McLain Award presented at SLIS Honor’s Day. Dr. McLain died two weeks after this ceremony.

"That morning Raymond had just gone to the P.O., which was only two short blocks from his and Bicky’s home. He was having a heart attack on his way home, made it to the door and able to knock for Bicky to hear; I think he died on the door step. I lived only a few blocks away and was called to their home. The ambulance had just taken him away."Jim Wilder

1982

Steve Miller teaches a summer workshop (Printing on the Vandercook), along with several other instructors, each teaching a week at a time during the summer to the first cohort of graduate Book Arts students.

1983

Fifth floor book stacks are relocated for construction of bindery. MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Book Arts is offered.

1988

Steve Miller is appointed as the tenure-track printing faculty member. Tenure granted six years later.

Program bookbinding instructors:

Paula Gourley (created the first bookbinding curriculum)
Shari Degraw, adjunct instructor
Donald Glaister
Wesley Baker, adjunct instructor

2002

Anna Embree is appointed as the tenure-track bookbinding faculty member.

2007

Steve Miller is promoted to Professor.

2008

Anna Embree receives tenure and promotion to Associate Professor