Skip to main content

Oral history interview with Walter Feldman, 1998 Aug. 10

Feldman, Walter, 1925-2017

Painter, Educator

Overview

Collection Information

Size: Sound recording: 1 sound cassette (90 min.) : analog.

Transcript: 30 pages.

Summary: An interview with Walter Feldman conducted 1998 Aug. 10, by Robert Brown, for the the Archives of American Art, in Feldman's home, Providence, R.I.

Feldman discusses attending classes as a youth, 1939-1942, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; attending Yale's School of Fine Arts, 1942; service in combat infantry in the U.S. Army, Europe, 1943-1946; completing his BFA at Yale, 1946-1950 and MFA, 1951; working as an instructor in painting at Yale until his appointment at Brown University (1953; professor 1961) where he continues to teach; exhibitions and commissions; working in painting, printmaking, mosaics, and in fine book making.

He discusses working as the sole studio art teacher at Brown University until mid-1960s; hiring of additional artist-teachers and the subsequent split of the art department between studio art and art history; bringing book arts to Brown with his establishment of the Brown/Ziggurat Press, which he directs and which mostly publishes poetry; the many visiting arists at Brown; frequent commissions which have kept him young in spirit; and working in widely divergent media: medals, mosaics, and a huge mural commission in 1976; discussion of leading examples of his handmade books, including James Schevill's poetry, "Lager Lieder" (1991), a book of concentration camp songs, and Michael Harper's "Family Sequences" (1998); broadsides he's designed, sculptural "reliqueries" to memorialize the Jewish Holocaust; the current prospering of his artists books; and his success as a teacher.

Biographical/Historical Note

Walter Feldman (1925-2017) was an artist and art educator of Providence, R.I. Established Ziggurat Press in 1984 and, as teaching adjunct at Brown University, the Brown/Ziggurat Press in 1990.

Provenance

This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

Funding

Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

Transcript

Preface

The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Walter Feldman on August 10, 1998. The interview took place in Feldman's home in Providence, Rhode Island, and was conducted by Robert F. Brown for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. This transcript has been lightly edited for readability by the Archives of American Art. The reader should bear in mind that they are reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

Interview

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Continuing after a gap of a number of years, an interview with Walter Feldman at his studio home in Providence, Rhode Island. And this is August 10, 1998. Correct?

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's correct.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Okay. When we talked in 1972, we ended by discussing, to some degree, your work up to that point. Particularly, though, we concentrated on post-World War II. Maybe we want to today start out with some of the highlights of your career since then, since 1972, and then get back to talking a bit about your work. You continued as a professor of art at Brown where you'd been appointed a full professor in 1961, but you'd been there since '53.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And how—did anything new, anything change beginning, say, in the mid-'70s? I think there's now a separation of studio art from art history.

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's right. That's a very important thing that happened—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Did that occur way back then, about that time?

WALTER FELDMAN:  —it happened about that time. Yes. Where uh, the art historians and the studio people decided to part ways. It was impossible to administer such a minestrone between these two kinds of people. So we since then, we're quite separate, quite separate. And we're both departments. For a while, they made it a program, but now it's a full department and it's clear that we have our own agenda and they have their own agenda. Of course, there is some getting together because we share the same building. So that's—but that's fine.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. But initially, it was not a clean split. I mean, you were—

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You were a program within the department.

WALTER FELDMAN:  [00:02:00] That's right. That's right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Was this a result of feeling that distinctly your needs and your outlook were different from those of historians?

WALTER FELDMAN:  If I may speak frankly.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Sure.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It is because the art historians generally were arrogant and self-centered. And they thought that whatever they wanted was the way God made it, which is not true. I mean, maybe some of it was all right but certainly they had no great tradition to say that they should get all the compensation and the slaveys should get all the work. It's ridiculous to believe that the artist has no intellectual function at all. So it was much better that we separated completely.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And did the—for years, had the college, Brown University sort of back them up or say that they were right—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. They backed them up. Oh, yes. They backed them up. Absolutely. Because they were a legitimate academic discipline.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Although traditionally they were not. They became a tradition—an academic discipline so that—but they had already become an academic discipline by the time we got together.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But they were fairly late in the game themselves—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes, and I'm talking generally. Not just here at Brown.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  In general. Sure.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Sure. Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  But, I think it works out much better. And they're still arrogant.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  They still are.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But they can be so on their own.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Now they can—they do it to each other.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  When did the distinction, the complete split take place? In the later '70s or?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Must have been.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It must have been. I don't remember the exact date because it's of no great consequence to me. But it was in the late '70s.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, you were for years, practically the only studio person. [00:04:01]

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's right. I was the first studio person. Uh, I took the place of a man named Taylor who was the, who was the first studio person. And he was also the first chairman of the department. At one time he did the backdrop for the Natural History Museum in New York. So you—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Taylor.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Taylor, his name was. And of course, you can understand that his attitude was very conservative. But it was his place that I took. And for some years, I was the only studio person.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. So Taylor you say was very conservative.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You came there fresh, after having been, taught at Yale. You'd been—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. I taught at Yale for three years. And it became very clear that that's not a good idea to remain in the same place that you were a student. In my opinion, is to make a big mistake. So I came here in 1953.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. Well, did you—were you given sort of carte blanche or what was your role? Was there a very small program?

WALTER FELDMAN:  It was a very, very small program and I had to do it all. So I did an introductory program and I think a drawing—or was it painting? I don't remember now. But at that time, only—almost all of the students were women. They were Pembrokers.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh. Pembroke College.

WALTER FELDMAN:  So it was up to me to see if I could intrigue some of the men. And I'd go around to various fraternities and indicating to them that it was perfectly manly to be interested in it. So in a few years, we had at least as many men as women. And that was a big difference because it stimulated all kinds of activities. And that became the need to find more people. [00:06:03] So now, of course, we are cut down by budget. But I think we have seven full-time people now. Painters and sculptors and—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So it's really quite a big program.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. It's a pretty good-sized program now.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You've had the—at one time, I know a possibility of students also taking work at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design—

WALTER FELDMAN:  They still do. They still do.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So they could—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. For instance, I have a student in my book arts class who was interested in doing graphic design as well. And she went down there and took that class. So she had an—and she has this idea that that's what she would like to do. She would like to be a graphic designer. So the combination of the book arts and the graphic introduction—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Works very well.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Works very well. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Did you—was that program integrated into the Brown curriculum to some degree? I mean, the—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Which one?

ROBERT F. BROWN:  The School of Design. Any course work they took at the Rhode Island School of Design—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. Not strictly in any formal way—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  I see.

WALTER FELDMAN:  With an individual instructor such as uh, if I were doing books and they were doing graphic design, I could help them incorporate it. But it was not in any formal way.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well now, then through the '60s at least, you were the sole studio person.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Uh, no. By the time the '60s came, there were several of us.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Several people in studio.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And what did you then begin specializing in? You've mentioned book arts several times.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I mentioned—I do the book arts only in the last 11 or 12 years.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh, I see.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Uh, because I developed bursitis in both shoulders.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh. Wow.

WALTER FELDMAN:  So working very large in painting is very painful. And it became ridiculous to try to do that. So since I am interested or always was interested in making woodcuts, which of course is a surface print. [00:08:01] And the surface print, like a woodcut, is a very similar to letterpress printing, I thought I'd try to make books. And I now make a lot of books. And I also have a class in book—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And that's been relatively recent.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Relatively recent. That's right. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And in the '60s, when additional staff came on, did you uh, what did—did you conduct the introductory studio course or advanced—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I uh, yes. Almost always I've conducted one section because it became very, very large. The introductory section now has maybe five or six sections. That would be 140, 150 students.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Gee. Wow.

WALTER FELDMAN:  So you know, it's impossible in a studio class. So I always volunteer to take one section each semester. So I must have over the years, 20 times 45. Or 40 times 40. A lot of students.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Oh, indeed.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. A lot of students.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Were you beginning to see as early as even the '50s a few of the students deciding they were going to go on and try to become artists?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes, yes. And those that are uh—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Is that considered unusual here in a distinguished liberal arts college—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Not anymore. Not anymore.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But at that time?

WALTER FELDMAN:  At that time. Yes. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Very.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Very unusual. Yes. But now, it's not unusual at all.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Who were some of the early students you recall went on from here to make something of a name for themselves?

WALTER FELDMAN:  At my age, I forget names. You know that?

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. [Laughs.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's the first thing you start to forget. And I forget the names. I know them, but I forget their names. I'm sorry.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. When—then you stayed on in Brown faculty. Are you emeritus now or?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, no.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Not really.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, no.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Not at all.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Thank you for Senator Pepper. [00:10:01] I am not an emeritus. I am a full-time person. Oh, yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  That's great.

WALTER FELDMAN:  They would like me to be emeritus I think, because they could get two for the price of one.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ah. Sure. Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  But unless I'm rendered [laughs] not possible to work. But I am and I do fine.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Great.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I feel good. And the only thing is that my shoulders hurt a little bit sometimes. But that doesn't mean that I can't print, because even after I do the prints, I don't have to do, to print them by hand. I can print them on my press. And I also inaugurated uh, a press, a small press for the university. So I have a small press called Ziggurat Press. And they have a small press called the Brown Ziggurat Press for which I am the director, the printer, the collator and so forth. And I do the same thing here. Now, with the university, I published three or four books already. And that money was given by a former student whose name I do remember. A husband and wife, because—their name is Mitchell. And he used to come by to pick up his wife, his now wife, for a cup of coffee at the end of the class. So he's now a lawyer and she's—continues to be interested in art. And they funded the idea of the Ziggurat Press for Brown. So when I have a special poet, because I do mostly poetry, then I, then it's in her honor. Bonnie Mitchell. It's a special print. Yes. Printing. Yes. [00:12:00]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So this is the role you play at the university through the Ziggurat Press, has finally printed particularly poems.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Right. Right—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But other things. Do they commission things now and then or?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. We did a—for the 100th anniversary of women at Brown, which was about 1970-something. I've forgotten the date again. We published—we commissioned Denise Levertov to do a series of poems. And I did the the book. I did the illustrations. Although I don't call them illustrations. I call them accompaniments. And I did the binding. And that was a commissioned thing. Otherwise, we subsidized the book. That is, there's nobody—no poet has to have any money for our work. And because I don't think that that's—that's not right, you know. So that's the way we work. And I do the same thing for my own, Ziggurat Press. On the other hand, that means that I can't do too much. I can't do too many because I do it all by myself, all with one assistant. The library gives me a student when I can find a good one. And they pay for it. And that's why I suppose they made me the John Hay Professor of Lithography because of the interest in books. And um—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And that helped—this student, when they find one, helped you.

WALTER FELDMAN:  When I find one. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  When you find one.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. She or he will come over here and work with me maybe five, six, seven, eight hours a week, which is very helpful because two people can do the work of three, whereas one can't do the work of two. [Laughs.] Even if you're very fast. So that's very, it's—[00:14:01]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, the Brown Ziggurat Press then or—according to this, established 1990.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. That's it.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But uh, you were doing your book art much earlier.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes. Much earlier.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. And you took some time in the late '70s, in '78 you were an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. For a semester.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  What led to that? Were you just interested in checking out or do they—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  —particularly want you to—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. They—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Visit the program?

WALTER FELDMAN:  No, they have a program up there, as you may know, that invites various people to work there. You work there and there's an arrangement to have an exhibition. And the only request that they have is that if students want to talk to you that you talk to them. But there's no classes. And they provide a very nice studio. They invited me to do that, so I—that was the place where that program was started by a very conservative artist named Paul Sample.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh, yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And I think it continues to this day.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Yes. That's right. It's been going since the '30s—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. I think so—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Something like that.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Has there ever been anything quite like that here?

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. Although they have tried to do that. But it's very, very difficult. And they have gotten some money, but they haven't succeeded in getting first-class people to want to come for any length of time. They'll come for a lecture, a couple of criticism periods or a week, but they won't—they don't seem to want to come for any length of time.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  What was the story now, I know at Yale when Albers came in in '51 or so, he brought in a succession of people. Did they come sometimes for a month or two?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, some of them came for a semester. He came for a semester.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So they did—he did bring in a—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. But it was much easier in New Haven than it is in Providence because you have a big reservoir of artists in New York.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Right.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And all they—it takes an hour to go from New York to New Haven. [00:16:01] And then you'd do your whatever and you can go back and you don't have to spend the whole day at it. So that's a—for Yale, the adjunct idea has has developed even further since that time. And now I think there are only one or two people who have tenure at the Yale school.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh, I see.

WALTER FELDMAN:  So they deal with the adjunct idea all the way because they don't have to pay benefits.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  It cuts both ways.

WALTER FELDMAN:  That it does—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  It's very rough on those—at least who primarily are relying on teaching.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes. Very much so.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. But Providence is that much further away from the big New York pool.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Right. RISD does that to some extent, but not enough. They can't. They can't compete.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  They do what they can. Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. But—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But you've had changes in faculty here, studio faculty.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, sure.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You've occasionally had visitors and—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, sure. Oh, we still do. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  That's very different, isn't it, from the academic departments which are—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Fixed in place once they rise up the tenure ladder.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Right. No, we have—maybe this past year we had 20, 25 visitors.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ah. Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  In various areas, you know? We also have classes in computer art and so forth. So there are lots of activities. In there, there's also a lot of um, interrelationship with the School of Design. But we have also interrelationship with—some of our faculty go down and crit [critique], and some of theirs come to Brown. Actually, at a certain level I don't think you could tell very much difference in the talent of students from RISD or students from Brown. Maybe in areas like graphic design where they have to work 40, 50 hours a week in one class there is a difference. [00:18:00] But generally, there's not much difference. Of course, we know that the person at RISD, this is their primary urge—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  That's right—

WALTER FELDMAN:  To be an artist. And you need that. You need that certainly. And we don't always have that.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Plus, don't they still—they have competing rather heavy—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, sure—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Academic demands.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Right. They do. They do. But I feel that if they eventually have that feeling that they want to be an artist, that the academic things will be of great value to them, you know. My grandmother used to say if you don't use it, it gets rusty.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.] And you've found a number—I suppose a number of students would bear this out.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes. I do. I do.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So you've been happy with the way the program has evolved—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  In its present—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Right. Well, at the present time there are certain attitudes that are being developed by some of the faculty that I do not approve of. But there's nothing I can do about it, you know. I'm not—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You mean particular intellectual—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Sure.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And so that's that. But everybody's entitled to their viewpoint. But I don't have to agree.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  And I don't.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, now that the school got—I think by the mid-1970s got quite a reputation as a liberal arts—well, an undergraduate college.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  I mean, it was extremely desirable and so forth. Was that based partly on the off—the enriched offerings you had in studio?

WALTER FELDMAN:  I think it's—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And perhaps comparable things elsewhere?

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's right. Everything got to be comparably better.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. For example, drama perhaps?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Drama, dance.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Dance.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Creative writing. That is a wonderful area now. Music. My goodness, it's—and of course, there's some of the courses in anthropology. [00:20:05] Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. And of course, they have a very successful program in economics, too. So we have a lot of young men who do economics. [Both laugh.] Well, you know. They want to be big business bankers or some goddamn thing like that. Something like that.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But did you—would you say by the mid-'70s you began seeing a higher caliber student as a result?

WALTER FELDMAN:  I saw richer students. [Laughs.]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Richer.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Richer. More money.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It used to be that you could find a parking space. Now it's almost impossible. You were lucky today because they're on holiday.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Maybe there's liberalized rules respecting having a car.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Everybody seems to have a car. And everyone has a car that's nicer than mine.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  Bigger than mine or better than mine. I don't—it doesn't bother me, but there are a hell of a lot of cars out there.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.] Yes. You know, throughout your career, or at least going far back, I mean, you've had—you've been fortunate, I suppose, in having commissions—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Now I suppose some of them have been drains and burdens on you, but others have probably been blessings—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I think it keeps me young.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Because?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, that I have an exciting thing to do, you know. And that means that I have to solve problems. So for instance, 40-some years ago, I did a series of exterior pavements for a temple here in Providence.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. Temple Beth-El.

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's right. And um, they did not take good care of them. And in order to fix the exterior part of the cement walk, which was not well done or over a period of time broke down, they had jackhammers clean that up. And when they did that, they broke my mosaic. [00:22:02] Now, when they broke it, you can't tell right away because it's just a crack. But during the winter, water comes in and freezes and so forth. So the two that don't have an overhang were relatively destroyed and cannot be fixed. So they called me last spring and they asked me if I would consider making those particular—it had to do—those particular pavements had to do with uh, festivals. Fall festivals. And I said I would be glad to do that if it was going to be in the interior. So they said, "Well, find a wall that you like." And I found a wall that required one that's going to be 13 feet high and 12 feet wide more or less. So when they said they would agree to that, I thought that was wonderful. That meant that immediately I had to make a sketch of what I was going to do. Then I told them they would have to approve that sketch because I had already arranged to go to Venice to buy the mosaics, which I did. So that became a very exciting thing. I spent 10 days in Venice and in Ravenna. And I got the mosaics. I had them—arranged for them to be sent. I called my carpenters who came down to Little Compton and built me an eight-foot wide, an eight-foot high easel.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Little Compton, your country place.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. So that I can work on the mosaic. And I work every day. And it's great exercise because I have to—they made steps for me to get up on the scaffolding. So I'd go up and down those goddamn steps [both laugh] 200 times a day, because I'd always forget something or something slips, you know. [00:24:01] But I think that's what keeps me feeling young.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So this is one of your earliest commissions. You've come back now.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It came back. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Do they often have kind of happy outcomes like this? You mentioned that shortly after we—for example, last talk in '73, you designed a commemorative plate, Israel's 25th—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  —for the Gorham Silver Company. Was that an outside commission?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, it was outside. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And Gorham carried it out.

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. It was done for Gorham.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Done for Gorham.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Done for Gorham. Yes. It was unfortunate. Gorham is out of business now and so forth. But that was, I thought, very successful.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And what would that involve?

WALTER FELDMAN:  That invo—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Was it typical at all?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, from that interest, I then began to do a series of medals. I would get a commission to do a medal. I got a commission to do a medal for the first time that Brown won the Ivy League Hockey Championship. Then I did another medal for the 25th anniversary of Israel, for the Jewish Federation that was—they sent the medal to the president of Israel. And just this winter, I did another medal, a silver medal for the 150th anniversary of the engineering department here at Brown with enamel, red and white enamel sections in it. So it all started from that interest with the plate. Then you know, I'd do the medals because that's fun to do and interesting again, because you have to meet different kind of people. As an example, uh, I had them cast here in Johnston the medals. And the medals—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  There's a notable foundry there—

WALTER FELDMAN:  There's a nice foundry there.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Paul King Foundry.

WALTER FELDMAN:  That's the one. Very nice man. And I think he does some work for some of the Boston sculptors. [00:26:02] So I had in mind to do a book of William Blake, "The Auguries of Innocence." And that's one of 10 poems that Blake wrote that he never accompanied with visual material. So I thought this one I like very much and I'm going to do it myself. And I don't have to compete with Blake, because that is no way to honor another artist. So I thought and thought, how should I do it? And because I was going to the foundry and I was watching him patina various materials, I then decided I would make a matrix for each of the sections that I was doing. And I have—would you like to see it?

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Sure.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Okay.

[Audio Break.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  —working with the metal and making patina. Then I realized I could make these impressions—and you'll see the images—and give them a bronze patina. And he, this Paul Kavanaugh [ph] gave me the address of the chemical company that you can get that patina.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And this—ah, yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  You didn't see the first page.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  No.

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. Get the first page. [Laughs.]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  After the introduction.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. These are the auguries of William Blake.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ah. Okay. It's lovely. So this is actually printed. It's embossed.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It's embossed on my etching press.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  On your etching press in metal, sheet metal.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. It's—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Copper.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It's copper. Yes. And then it's patinaed and then the patina is taken off just a little bit. [00:28:01] And then it's waxed.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So this was something—this was just last year.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Last year—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You just told me. So this is your—was this a commission?

WALTER FELDMAN:  No.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  No.

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. This was my—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Example.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Of my idea. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Exquisite production.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Thank you.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  The commissions I suppose in a way pull you out of the things in some ways that you really want to do. Is that right?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Sometimes. Sometimes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And sometimes they allow you to do things you wouldn't have otherwise—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Done.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Now, I know for certain that I wouldn't spend five or six thousand dollars on glass to make a mosaic unless I had a commission. [Laughs.] Or more. It's maybe more, you know.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Now, that was very early you were doing that mosaic. Had you done any before that on your own?—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. I had a Fulbright to study mosaics. And in 1957, I apprenticed myself to an Italian mosaicista in Rome. And I am very proud to call myself a mosaicista.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mosaicista.

WALTER FELDMAN:  That is, I'm not an amateur at all.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. So at that very time, you had this commission, this first commission, you had been a Fulbrighter.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So did you spend much of that Fulbright year in Italy doing that? Or were you painting mainly in bronze?

WALTER FELDMAN:  I did both. I did both. We traveled a lot because in order to see various kinds of mosaics, the Fulbright people gave me that opportunity you know, because all of the money was given in lira. So you had to have permission to get the money in another, in a country's denominations. So I went—I traveled to Spain for some of those kind of mosaics. And I traveled to the Middle East. They gave me privilege to go to Turkey and to Israel because Israel has a lot of early Christian and early Jewish mosaics, which actually are Greek. [00:30:10] The authors were Greek. That is, the guy who designed them. But nevertheless, they are in Israel. And um, then of course, we went to Sicily, and Piazza Armerina, and all of those places so that I spent a week in Ravenna. I spent almost a week in the Vatican at their conservation laboratory. You know, they do all of that themselves. All of the mosaics are restored by their craftsmen.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Hmm. Right there.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And they also do the—or did the copying of the paintings into a mosaic that hangs in St. Peter's. So as you know, they're all mosaics. Very, very tiny, but beautifully articulated.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So it became a technique that you—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Liked very much.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Except that I would never do it except on a—

[END OF TRACK AAA_feldma98_3757_r]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Now, you had though—because these are mosaics—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But you had other commissions of, say, in the '70s.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  A mural for the Union Paper Company in 1976—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. That's right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Which was 4,500 square foot.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. That was an enormous one. I had to hire—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Now, was this a painted mural?

WALTER FELDMAN:  It was painted. Yes. Exterior. Exterior. And I had to hire a group of  French Canadians who climbed up there with a little rope. And with one hand I painted and the other hand I was swinging around. That was fantastic. But since that time, that company built another building smack in front of my mural.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Laughs.]

WALTER FELDMAN:  So you can't see it anymore.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  What was the theme of that mural?

WALTER FELDMAN:  It was—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Abstract one?

WALTER FELDMAN:  The theme had to do with what they did. It was a company that did a lot of um, packaging. They did printing on acetate and printing on various materials so that you know, that it was for bread and all kinds of things like that. So this was an abstract view of the machinery, the printing machinery as if it were cut away and you could see the way all of these things were revolving and involving.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And did you develop—this was true mosaic or true fresco then—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No, no, no. It wasn't. It couldn't. They didn't have enough money. So it was paint, an exterior paint that would last maybe eight or ten years. And then if they wanted, they could repaint it. Very much like Sister Corita's—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh, the gas tank—

WALTER FELDMAN:  The gas tank.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  In Boston. Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. That doesn't last forever either, you know. But it can be repainted without any difficulty.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You've got a good many of these commissions listed here, maybe you want to just take a brief peek and some of these you might want to talk about. Let me just—talk about other commissions. [00:02:02] In 1977, you did a cover and illustrations for a novel by James Schevill, Arena of Ants.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. The Arena of Ants.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  How did that come about?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, I did a series of accompaniments to a poem that he had written having to do with Don Quixote. James Schevill's father was a Cervantes scholar, one of the most important Cervantes scholars in the United States. That's how we got together. And uh, he was both a poet and a playwright. And he was um—he showed me this novel and we got to talking about it. Actually he was a young officer who was stationed—I think it was in Kingston during the war at a German POW camp. And this Arena of Ants has to do with that story where the German prisoners had a court and where they um, tried and executed several of their own people because they thought they were beginning to be too liberal and not Nazi enough.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Really. And our authorities permitted that evidently.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Well, whether they permitted it, it happened.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  It happened.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And it happened a great deal out west where there were even more people. So then they had to do something about that because the German Nazi officers were controlling the whole kit and caboodle. So that was interesting to me because I had been, as you know, not only during the war in Germany, but I was there also for eight or nine months after the war. [00:04:00] So I was—in the army of occupation as well in Berlin.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But that's been a watershed experience, wasn't it?—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  For you.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes. It really—when somebody said on the talk show this morning, talking about V-J Day, he said, "You never forget it." And unfortunately, it's true. I sit here and tell you that it happened more than fifty—fifty years ago! And I remember every nuance, every smell, everything about it. It's unbelievable that you can have such a memory. And I can't remember names. [Laughs.]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But that. But I mean, it was a very important, epical event—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes, it was—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  As you look back. And at the time you sensed it as it was.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes. I did sense it. Yes. I was very grateful to be alive. Yes. And to be able to walk. Oh, my. That was terrific.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Because you'd had an injury.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. I had a mortar explosion in the small of the back. And it just missed the spine maybe by a fat sixteenth of an inch. And it was conceivable the doctor said, it's conceivable that I wouldn't walk. But I was able to. And I do pretty good now, too. Not wonderful. [Laughs.] No, but not bad.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Obviously you're not—you're still quite ambulatory.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Absolutely.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, you wanted to tell me also, in '91, you designed, illuminated and printed the Lager Lieder or concentration camp songs.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I have a friend—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  How did these come about?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. I have a friend who's in the English department. He's a critic and a writer. And he's married to a woman who was a refugee, or from Poland and was in some of the camps. [00:05:59] So she um, had heard some of these songs in Polish and she asked if he and she couldn't do a translation of them. And he then came to me and said would I like to read these because they're so moving. And they were very moving. And I said, "I'll do it." And fortunately I was leaving the office one day and I came to the back side of the John Hay Library where they had thrown out a whole lot of 1930 ledger books. Ledger books. Beat up a little bit, but they were from—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ledger books of the library?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Library. Right. So I said, "My god." Those—there were 17 of them. "I'll make 17 books of these songs." And I did woodcuts for each of them. And they are in fact so moving that people have looked at them at the exhibition and started to cry. I also had—he had given me a tape of the man who sings them. And he has not got a good voice, but even not understanding the Polish, they are very, very moving.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Now, the ledger books did you use or this simply inspired you to—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I used them. I used them. Yes. And I sold one to to the Library of Congress. And I sold one to the Simon Wiesenthal. I sold one to Yale. I sold one to all kinds of places until I sold out the whole edition. And then my son said, "You ought to make a second edition." So I made a small volume, which was a second edition. I think I've almost sold that out, too, so that I know that a copy is in the Holocaust Museum in Washington. [00:08:02]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Washington. Well, now how did you use the first edition, those 17 ledger books? Did you affix on top of that your own illustrations?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes. I did the printing of course and saw that I could relate the accompaniments to the illustration to the—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  But I mean, what about the old ledger bit itself?

WALTER FELDMAN:  There was a little—no, no, no.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh. Just the cover.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Just the covers. Just the covers. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Simple. Nice. But you like to call them accompaniments. You've said that before.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  What is the—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Because I'm not an illustrator. You know, I'm not like N.C. Wyeth showing that he's put his hand out with a dagger. I don't do that. I try to get a feeling, my feeling for that particular event or that particular quality. That's all. So that it could be quite abstract.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And it's not, generally speaking, referring at all to any kind of narrative.

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. Not at all. This is an accompaniment for my latest book that is called The Family Sequences by a poet named Harper, Michael Harper, who was the local poet laureate.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. In Rhode Island?

WALTER FELDMAN:  In Rhode Island. So that this is one of—you can keep that one for that.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  That is interesting.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. His poetry is very moving because he's talking about his family. He had all kinds of problems. Two of his children died at birth and all of those horrible things. But I told him when I started to do the book that I was not going to do illustrations, that he would just have to—I'll bring another couple of pages. [00:10:02]

[Audio Break]

WALTER FELDMAN:  The last—that's okay.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Sorry. Got that on? Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I've done a lot of broadsides even recently. And one of them was a poem by Michelangelo. And then recently, one of my friends discovered in one of the books that we have at the John Hay Library, a handwritten poem by Robert Frost.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative] [affirmative]. And John Hay by the way is with the rare books.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Is the rare books library. Right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Here at Brown University.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. As you know, John Hay was the secretary to President Lincoln.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mmm. Right.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And um, so let's see now.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So there was something further. The Robert Frost poem. This would be fairly recently.

WALTER FELDMAN:  There was this Robert Frost poem, which must have been written in 1917.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And never published.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Never published so far as we knew. And this was handwritten. It was written out completely with only one change. It was just one word was changed, slashed out and changed. And I then was put in touch with the executor of the Robert Frost estate, who was up at Dartmouth I think. And he gave me permission to do 40 copies and I've done that. And what I did was I have a woodcut—again, an accompaniment to this poem. But the poem was very moving to me, was Robert Frost imploring the French not to capitulate in 1917, which of course they did in 1940. But in 1917, they also were quivering with the feeling that maybe they should give up. [00:12:03] And uh, so that was historically so interesting to me.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And that was then—did you print the poem?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You saw this poem. You didn't—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I print—I'll tell you what I did. I photoengraved the poem so that you could read the handwriting.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ah.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I'll show it to you afterwards because I have it here.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You photoengraved the—

WALTER FELDMAN:  The poem.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  The handwritten poem.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Right. And then I inked it up with a blue ink that was slightly transparent so that when it was printed, it has very much the quality of a handwritten pen, you see, in blue. The accompaniment is in black. And just a little red cross from the Red Cross idea of the First World War ambulance and so forth. And the death that that the First World War was so particularly renowned for, where they had thousands killed for a couple of hundred yards.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Yes. And what was the audience for this? I mean, you and a colleague had discovered these—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I found a lot of people are interested in the work of Robert Frost. And as a matter of fact, I was sitting on the beach the other day getting a little R and R, and a young woman whose husband is a poet got to talking. And she said what have I done recently. And I told her about this broadside. "Oh," she said. "Robert Frost. I have to have one as a gift for my husband." So I'm going to bring one back today.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  I see.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. So you know, if you have an interest in Robert Frost, this is especially interesting poem, an idea that he was so concerned about this event, the possibility of the French giving up. [00:14:13]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You've also done in the last—I don't know how many—10, 20 years, various kinds of assemblages, too, you know.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  [Inaudible].

WALTER FELDMAN:  There's one right there.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Can you talk a little bit about that?

WALTER FELDMAN:  I sometimes keep a lot of different disparate things in the studio, hoping that one day I'm going to get this idea. And I do. I say, "Oh my." And then I'll put it together and I'll make an assemblage, which then becomes a book. It is like a book. Well, it has aspects of the book. And that one on the left is—that section of the column is cut off and a part of the book of Genesis is printed. And that little column is shrouded with armor to protect those beautiful words from the vileness of some men.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Hmm. Yes. It's sheet metal it looks to me.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It is.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  It's very much.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It's like, yes. Aluminum. And I've given it, of course, the appearance of being heavier, but it isn't. It's aluminum that they use for lithographs.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, when did you begin doing this? Can we call them reliquaries or they're very—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, reliquaries are a little bit different. The reliquaries I did after I got back nine years ago from Italy. And I had—I lived in Florence at that time. [00:15:59] And the Florentine police have a big armored van permanently stationed in front of the synagogue in Florence. That synagogue must have been built in about the third quarter of the 19th Century. And it's very oriental looking. So I saw it on various times. And then I would also go to like Assisi and see some of the saints' reliquaries. So when I came back, I began to design buildings, as if they were buildings, but they were all generally curvilinear. And uh, inside the buildings or what appeared to be buildings was some cloth, charred cloth that resembled the material that the concentration camp people had. And two prayers. One, the Hebrew prayer for the dead. And the other, the prayer for the six million who died for no reason especially. And the openings of these reliquaries I burnt with an oxygen acetylene torch so that they looked like—they just stopped—the fire just stopped and these were the results. I did a series of them. And again, I had a lady cry when she saw them. And she's not an older woman. She's a young woman. But she was so moved by them that she also had to write me and tell me that she'd never been so moved in her life. So that was—I have one that I'm working on from time to time, but it's an effort. [00:18:01] I mean, it's an emotional effort to do them. So I'm going to finish this one and then I'm not going to do anymore.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  So primarily they've been concerned with dreadful—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Themes or the threat of that.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Of course, the reliquaries are always the saints' martyrdom. So I suppose that wasn't so pleasant either you know. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Um, I'd like to also to just ask you briefly about exhibitions. Have they always been pretty important to you? I know you did a long series of them and—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Well, you know, it's nice to have—to see that people see your work. That was one and this was another one having to do with books.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well you've, since we last talked, I mean, from the mid-'70s on, you've had some shows and a good many here in Rhode Island, but also various other places, too. Are there any that particularly stand out?

WALTER FELDMAN:  I don't pay too much attention anymore to exhibitions.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. And then they didn't matter too much?

WALTER FELDMAN:  No. No. Now I have four dealers for my books. So if people are interested, they can see them in Boston. They can see it in New York. And they can see them in Washington. Or they can see them in San Francisco. If they wish. Now, these dealers don't have exhibitions, but they're there and if people say they're interested, I can give them the address. And from time to time, of course, they do sell. But mostly they sell to collectors and to—what do you call it? Not dealers, but—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Libraries?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Libraries. Yes. The list that I have of the libraries that own my work now is fantastic. [00:20:03] You know, there's almost no important private collection that doesn't have some of my work. Although I don't make a big—I don't go around pounding on myself—you know.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Is that something you've seen grown—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, it's grown. Yes—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  In the last generation?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes. Oh, I see what you mean. For me?

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, no. I mean in general, the interest in artists' books. I mean, can we call these artists' books?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. They are artists' books. Although, I don't know what an artist's book is. Neither does everybody else. [Laughs.] But, yes. I think there's very much more interest now. Yes. As a matter of fact, 10 or 12, 15 years ago, you could get one of these presses just for taking it away. Now if you want one of these presses, it costs $1,500 to $2,000 dollars. So they're not giving them away anymore. Nothing is being given away.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You're speaking of what? Old—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Proofing presses, you know. Letterpress proofing presses. I said to somebody that I just got um—that was some years ago. I got a Universal III Vandercook press. And they said, "Oh, boy. That is the Cadillac of presses" And they were right. I think it's the Rolls Royce of presses. [Laughs.]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Superb, huh?

WALTER FELDMAN:  It's superb. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well, you've had your book exhibitions all over the place.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Back in the '60s and '70s, you were still showing paintings quite a bit, weren't you?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  In Boston and here, and Kingston, New York.

WALTER FELDMAN:  But the dealers are, I can't cotton up to them anymore. And I just have no more interest in giving them 50 percent of the work.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Sure.

WALTER FELDMAN:  So I'd just as soon uh—I don't need them and I don't want them.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And this present arrangement by—[00:22:00]

WALTER FELDMAN:  Is fine.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  It's fine.

WALTER FELDMAN:  It's fine for me.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Where do you think you're going to be heading? I mean, you're still not only doing your artwork, but you're still fully functioning as a professor. I mean, you're—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, I'll continue to work until—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Another month, you'll be back in the—

WALTER FELDMAN:  No, no. I won't. I'm on sabbatical this semester.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Oh, well, except for that, ordinarily.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. That's right. That's right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Full-time.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. But full-time doesn't mean that I work—that I teach full-time. That is, every day. You know, we work two or three days a week. And the idea is for us to continue our own work. So I continue to work that way, until I find that I'm losing it. If they don't tell me, maybe I'll know by myself. But I hope that somebody that I respect can tell me. My wife is very honest. She tells me. So if she tells me, then I'll quit. But in the meantime, I have students who in their evaluations say that of all of the classes that they've taken at Brown—that's just the door creaking—that people should take at least my course because they get the most out of it, that they learn the most, that they found a real human being at the other end and so forth. So I'm very proud of that.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You're aware that you're a very hands-on, involved teacher. You must have—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, I know. I know I am. Sure. Yes. And they know that they can come to me and about anything. And—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And do, I suppose.

WALTER FELDMAN:  And do. And I can help them. Because I have had a lot of experience, and I do a lot of people in the administration. And I am not frightened of them. They don't frighten me. And they can't try to impose their will on me if I don't want to. [00:24:01] And I don't want to. [Laughs.] So I'm really with the students. And I think they know that. But you can't, you know, in the kind of teaching I do, the classes are small. So—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  About how big would you think?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, 15 is a big class. Fifteen. Because we don't have that much—you can't get around to that many students with so many particular changes of things that we have to tell them. They have to learn about uh, printing from the type. They have to learn about making paper. We make paper. They have to learn how to make woodcuts, surface prints. They have to learn how to make silkscreen prints. They have to learn how to bind books and sew. They have to understand about collating it so that you have a viable way of putting the goddamn book together. So all of these things take time because you know, it's not just that you put it up on the blackboard. They have got to do it and they've got to do it again. And then they make a mistake or they forget, so that it requires a lot of patience, which I, as you can see, if I'm a mosaicista, I have a lot of patience. [Laughs.] Because one little stone at a time.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And in the doing of this by your students, they're going through an intellectual process you feel. You fully believe that this—

WALTER FELDMAN:  Oh, yes. Because I also—

ROBERT F. BROWN:  You have the old issue of—

WALTER FELDMAN:  I bring them to the library at least two times a month, to the John Hay. We pull out all kinds of wonderful books, historical books, as well as contemporary books. And the curator is more than happy to develop ideas with them so that they have all kinds of ways of being inspired and educated, too.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes. Yes. Well, you feel your vocation as a teacher, which I gather you must have reached—arrived at pretty early. [00:26:06]

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  By the time you were leaving Yale back in the early '50s. You're teaching there.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Has been very, very worthwhile.

WALTER FELDMAN:  I think for me it was. And I have a feeling that for a lot of my students, too.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Yes.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Yes. Some people have empathy, and I have empathy. I don't have empathy for grossness, though, you know. They have to got to want to work hard. You know, I'm not going to feed them with a spoon.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  And grossness you mean what?

WALTER FELDMAN:  Well, that they think whatever they do is good.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Ah.

WALTER FELDMAN:  Today, a lot of students think whatever they do is all right. It's not. You've got to have a view of always trying to get better, whatever that means. Maybe you have to decide what is better for you, but it's got to be better. And from time to time, I have a student who thinks that whatever they do is okay, that they don't have to listen. They don't have to wonder. You do. You have to listen. You have to wonder. You have to try. You have to experiment. You have to continue to grow. And always, you have to stay young. So there you are.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  They are young.

WALTER FELDMAN:  They are. Yes. [Laughs.]

ROBERT F. BROWN:  The question is will they stay young.

WALTER FELDMAN:  [Laughs.] That's right. Right. Right.

ROBERT F. BROWN:  Well.

[END OF TRACK AAA_feldma98_3758_r]

[END OF INTERVIEW.]

How to Use This Collection

Transcript is available on the Archives of American Art's website.

This transcript is open for research. Access to the entire audio recording is restricted. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Walter Feldman, 1998 Aug. 10. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.