Bessie Smith Moulton
Falmouth, ME, 2003
Edition 7/25
Smithsonian Libraries

Tunisia is a travel diary which Bessie Smith Moulton turned into flavorful encounters with history and the successive civilizations that flourished in this Berber land—the land of Carthage where Dido dwelled and Virgil was read, and where Hannibal’s dreams died and Caesar’s were born.  It is also the land where Tanit and Juno once basked in the affection of their devotees, and Janus and Baal (Saturn) enjoyed the devotion of their followers, before giving way to the passion of Christ, then the zeal of Mohammed.  Above all, it is a land that vanquishes its conquerors by adopting their virtues: Greek elegance, Roman orderliness, Arab sensuality, and French joie de vivre.

In Tunisia, Moulton integrates a multitude of artistic techniques, including graphite, watercolors, acrylic paints, collage, computer graphics, and photography.  The font Dewie Guru, which she developed based on her own handwriting for the "diary" insert, along with a touch of hand painting with gold gouache, make her work a personal account.

Tunisia by Bessie Smith Moulton, 2003. El Jar. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

The book is hand-bound into a leather portfolio opening in the reverse, with a flap to protect it from the dust of the desert, in the tradition of Arabic books.  The title is in gold foil, stamped on a leather binder joining fifty-two pages of varying heights and widths to allow images to interact among the pages.  The pages are printed on Mohawk Superfine paper on an Indigo Press.

Tunisia by Bessie Smith Moulton, 2003. Cover. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Painted in colors and in script, the pages of Moulton’s book describe the charms and delights of Tunisian life—animated cities by the sea, verdant fields surrounding ancient ruins, and old hillside towns, gateways to the serenity of vast desert.  Interlacing these images of Tunisian landscapes are lines of poetry which invoke the traveler’s yearning for distant lands and her desire for their urbane pleasures.

Tunisia by Bessie Smith Moulton, 2003. St Expuery.African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Thus, Emily Dickinson’s “Route of evanescence” (1849) reminisces about a hummingbird:

A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel –
A resonance of emerald
A rush of Cochineal –
And every blossom on the bush
Adjusts its tumbled head –
The mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy morning’s ride –

Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat hails with pleasure the sight of the breaking dawn:

Awake! for morning in the bowl of night
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight:
And lo! the hunter of the East has caught
The sultan's turret in a noose of light.

What Moulton brings to Tunisia and her many other artist’s books are the beauty of poetry, the insight of the psychologist, the empathy of the healer, the wisdom of the well-travelled, and a boundless love of life.  As one of her reviewers wrote, “Her works are masterpieces of topography, letter-press printing, and design and float from the chaste to the jubilant.  They are complex and irresistible.”[1]

Tunisia by Bessie Smith Moulton, 2003. Sand Tracks. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

About the Artist

Bessie Smith Moulton graduated from the University of Maine, Orono, in 1967 with a degree in psychology and fine arts.  In 1973 she received a MA in art education from Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, with a concentration in printmaking.  Since 1974, she has maintained an affiliation with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Massachusetts College of Art; and Maine College of Art, in Portland.  A freelance graphic designer for over twenty-five years, Moulton works in several media including printmaking, collage, painting, and book arts.

Moulton has traveled widely across Europe, Asia Minor, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, North Africa, Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, South America, and Canada.  Her choice of travel destinations is a response to intellectual curiosity and spirit of adventure.  She reads up on the countries before visiting and thus turns her journeys into learning experiences and sources of artistic inspiration.

Tunisia by Bessie Smith Moulton, 2003. Carding. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.


Isaacson, Philip.   “Celebrating the power of black.” Maine Sunday Telegram, June 18, 2006.

Union of Maine Visual Artists.  “Bessie Smith Moulton.” http://www.umvaonline.org/index.php?page=artists#artist_frame

Vamp & Tramp, Booksellers.  “Bessie Smith Smoulton.”     http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/m/bessie-smith-moulton.html

[1] Philip Isaacson, “Celebrating the Power of Black,” Maine Sunday Telegram, June 18, 2006.