WPI Professor Carves Out Two Careers

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WORCESTER, Mass. -- "Science and art have perpetually competed for my time," says WPI chemical engineering Professor William R. Moser of Hopkinton, Mass. For most of his life, science has won out, but the balance will shift after he retires in June 2000, when he plans to open an independent studio to concentrate on his art.

Moser holds a B.Sc. from Middle Tennessee State University and a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His academic and research career has focused on homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis and novel materials synthesis. He is a member of WPI's Center for Inorganic Membrane Studies and a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, holds several patents, has edited several books, and has written numerous articles related to catalytic and materials sciences.

But this professor isn't just a cloistered academic explaining esoteric theories to wide-eyed college students or cranking out inventions in a windowless laboratory. He is also a gifted sculptor, who carves faces, flowers and figures out of Honduran and Philippine mahogany, butternut, ebony, oak, redwood and pine. For six weeks (through Feb. 12), several examples of his detailed and complex "wood-inspired philosophy" have been on display in "Wood in Repose: A Wood Sculpting Exhibit" in the third floor gallery of WPI's Gordon Library. All except one of the works were completed before 1981 before he began his tenure at WPI-proof of Moser's dedication to science.

"I learned wood sculpting in the late 1960s from an old Swiss man, who carved rough and lovely flowers in soft wood," says Moser, whose career before coming to WPI in 1981 included technical positions at CIBA and Monsanto in Switzerland. "He taught me technique and he held the belief that expression flowed naturally from the imagination." He says he brings a scientist's perspective to his work. "I am not like Michelangelo, who said he carved his masterpieces by cutting away everything that did not look like the object he was sculpting," he says. "If I want to make a foot, I look at my foot and make a detailed drawing, and then carve it out of the wood."

Moser carves detailed and complex pieces that express the curves and muscles of the body or reveal his subjects' personality or their history or politics. "My love for wood was awakened in Arosa, high in the Swiss Alps during a five year stay in that region during the mid-1960s," he says. "In many guest houses and Stubli (the Swiss version of a pub), hardwood crafted into soft glowers and delicate figures tells stories of the mountain people. There a new vision was born in me." He is looking forward to devoting full-time to his art after he completes his academic career. "The metamorphosis of wood into the expression of the imagination is this sculptor's joy."

WPI is an independent technological university founded in 1865.