By the time you have signed up for your first Brown course, Walter Feldman will have made an impression on you. This year, for the twenty-sixth time since 1973, Feldman, a professor of visual arts, donated a piece of his artwork for the cover of the Brown Course Announcement. As a publication that most students look at with a combination of fear and excitement, the course announcement is the front door to a Brown education: each semester students flip it open and determine the shape of their education.
Feldman, sitting on a stool in his drafty, sunlit artist's loft in the List art building, has a more pragmatic approach. "I think of it as my saying hello to a whole lot of people," he says. "I think I ignore the inside a little bit; it's too bad so much of it is so dry."
A faculty member since 1953, Feldman knows dry when he sees it. He estimates that during his time at the University he has personally instructed more than 4,000 undergraduates in everything from drawing, painting, and sculpture to his current passion, the making of books. In 1985 he founded Ziggurat Press, an imprint he runs out of his home near campus. Along with the students in his seminar "The Art of the Book," Feldman uses Ziggurat to create art books.
Feldman's decision to donate his artwork to the course announcement came as the result of his fascination with former registrar Milton Noble's virtuosity at billiards - a game Feldman had never played. In 1972 Noble asked Feldman for help improving the course book's cover. "He asked me, 'So what do you want if you do this for me?' " Feldman recalls with a sly grin. "I told him, 'Teach me how to play billiards.' "
The course announcement covers reflect the variety of Feldman's interests. Some are etchings, drawings, and paintings; others are photographs of sculptures; one is a silk screen that incorporates electrocardiogram printouts (one of which is Feldman's own). The letter B pops up frequently, inspired, Feldman insists, by something other than Brown. On the 1984-85 cover, for example, the B perched atop a column stands for Barbara, Feldman's wife. And the one on the cover of 1994-95 stands for Buonarroti - as in Michelangelo.
This spring, to commemorate Feldman's contributions, the registrar's office commissioned a poster of his covers and threw him a small party. "When the announcement comes out in the spring, I usually take a copy over to him and say thank you - and that's about all he gets," says Brook Moles, who oversees production of the course announcement. "We thought that twenty-five years of free artwork was worthy of some recognition."
Although the registrar's office has been offering course listings electronically for the past several years, Moles says there is no plan to eliminate the paper version, which, he adds, is "the kind of thing that people like to carry around with them." Moles plans to ask Feldman for a freebie every year "until he says he doesn't want to do it anymore," he says.
It could be a while. Feldman, who had his first computer installed in his office this spring, wants to keep saying his hellos to new students: "While I'm still alive I'm going to do it," he says.