Interview with Betsy Sherman on Herman Melville’s Arrowhead

Literary Tourist in The Berkshires 

Herman Melville lived at Arrowhead (so named because of arrowheads found nearby in the soil during planting season) from 1850–1863, during which time he wrote some of his best known works: Moby-Dick, The Confidence-Man, and The Piazza Tales, a short story collection named after his porch, of which he wrote:

Now, for a house, so situated in such a country, to have no piazza for the convenience of those who might desire to feast upon the view, and take their time and ease about it, seemed as much of an omission as if a picture-gallery should have no bench; for what but picture-galleries are the marble halls of these same limestone hills?—galleries hung, month after month anew, with pictures ever fading into pictures ever fresh.

Built in the 1780s as a farmhouse, it was located adjacent to property owned by Melville’s uncle Thomas, who Melville visited in his youth. He purchased the property in 1850 with borrowed money and spent the next twelve years farming and writing. Money problems forced him to sell the property to his brother, and return to New York City in 1863 whereupon he eventually found work as a customs inspector.

The house remained in private hands until 1975, when the Berkshire County Historical Society acquired it and some of the original 160-acre property. The Society restored most of the house to Melville’s period and operates it as a house museum; it’s open to the public ‘during warmer months.’

I visited Arrowhead to learn more about why it should be on the Literary Tourists’s bucket-list.  Listen here to my conversation with Executive Director Betsy Sherman

San Francisco and The Arion Press here we come

The Arion Press was founded in San Francisco in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem growing out of a partnership he had with Robert Grabhorn using the Grabhorn Press‘s famed collection of metal type. Arion has published more than 100 fine press books, many of which are illustrated with prints by prominent artists.

Each year the press publishes three or four “exquisite” books in editions of 400 copies or less. Titles over the years have included Moby Dick, a lectern edition of the Bible, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Other books include treatments of the poetry of Wallace Stevens, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Emily Dickinson, novels by Samuel Beckett, H.G. Wells, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf. and plays by Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller. These books are highly collectible.

Hoyem was born in 1935. He is an accomplished printer, a published poet, and an exhibited artist. His Arion Press, named after the Greek poet known in myth for having been kidnapped by pirates and miraculous rescued by dolphins, has been called America’s “leading publisher of fine-press books.” The concepts for all Arion publications originate with Hoyem, who chooses literary texts, commissions new work from writers and artists he admires, and designs the books, including their bindings and typography.

Many rank Hoyem’s edition of Moby Dick among the greatest American fine-press books ever published. His most ambitious project, the Folio Bible, took several years to complete. This is likely to be the last Bible ever to be printed from metal type.

In 1989 Arion acquired Mackenzie & Harris, “the oldest and largest remaining type foundry in the United States, established with equipment displayed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.” In 2000 Hoyem founded the nonprofit Grabhorn Institute to “help preserve and continue the operation of one of the last integrated facilities for type-founding, letterpress printing, and bookbinding, developing it as a living museum and educational and cultural center, open to the public, with a gallery and tours as well as an apprenticeship program.”

I’ll be in San Francisco next month. I plan to visit the Arion Press, where I’ll enjoy the privilege of interviewing Mr. Hoyem for The Biblio File podcast. I’m pumped. Stay tuned!