Remembering Frederick C. Wales

April 3, 2012

These photographs were taken at Montserrat’s Open House, 2004, while celebrating the start of the print shop with Fred. – Courtesy of Sarah Smith

Montserrat remembers Frederick C. Wales, a true friend to our community.

Asst. Prof. Sarah Smith and John McVey reflect on their fond memories of Fred as they were first starting a Book Arts program at Montserrat. After finding out Fred had a printing press he was willing to donate to Montserrat, Sarah, John and Prof. Ethan Berry visited Fred’s home in Beverly to look at the equipment.

“He had a nice little shop set up in his basement, where he still loved to give lessons to visitors,” said Sarah. “He seemed excited to have it go to a school, but he wanted to give us lessons in how to use it first.”

“I was more impressed by Fred’s plumbing, in his basement, than anything else,” said John as he reflected upon visiting Fred’s home to see his Golding Platen Press. “He’d done this complicated heating system throughout the house, many lines of copper pipe running off from a central valve setup that looked about as complicated as the interior of a submarine.”

While the trio figured out where exactly they would relocate the equipment on Montserrat’s campus, Ethan and Sarah began visiting Fred. Sarah received lessons from him and Ethan videotaped it all. Fred always felt strongly about encouraging girls to pursue technical and engineering interests. “I learned so much about teaching from Fred,” said Sarah.

In late summer of 2004, they moved the equipment out of Fred’s home and into Montserrat. Some of the equipment was already in the basement of Hardie, from Ethan and John collecting things. “That was a good start, but it wasn’t enough to really start letterpress classes, never mind a Book Arts program,” said Smith. “What we got from Fred made it possible to have a proper shop and to get Book Arts off the ground and running at Montserrat.”

Click below to read Sarah’s full reflection…

Thinking about Fred: By Sarah Smith

I got to know Fred when we visited his house to look at the print shop he had in his basement. We were thinking of starting a Book Arts program at Montserrat College of Art and needed equipment. A few of us visited at first, then just two of us visited a few times while he demonstrated how to use the press. Eventually I began visiting him on my own. We spent many hours talking about printing, teaching and life.

Fred’s stories about growing up in Beverly were some of my favorites—the parades every Saturday down Cabot Street; shooting an arrow through the neighbors window; getting his bike wheels stuck in the trolley track; and the commotion of Armistice Day.

I learned so much about teaching from Fred. Sometimes this came in the advice he gave me—keep a journal of students over the years; use every unexpected situation as a teaching opportunity—and how he actually taught me in our conversations—asking questions so I could come to my own answers, patiently waiting for an answer to come to me.

I think of how Fred taught his students about printing and I try to incorporate some of his techniques in my letterpress classes today (although I’ve never had the nerve to bump a student in the elbow to make sure they were holding their composing stick properly). I tell my students some of his stories from teaching—the hole in the wall of his printing classroom that became filled with type students didn’t want to put away; the time he went from classroom to class room pretending to be a fire, wearing a sandwich board sign of a big flame to get teachers to think about how they would react; the time all the sprinklers got set off when his class was printing their own matchbooks. Of course I loved the funny stories, but his memories of the students he had and helped—especially the girls interested in engineering were equally stirring.

Visiting Fred in his house, listening to him as he described all his design decisions and where every board and pipe of the house came from was inspiring. It seemed like he could do anything—and did! His workshop and print shop in the basement were of the most organized and well used shops I’ve ever seen—the perfect place to make a model ship, a piece of furniture, a curved banister or a carved whale to go on the garden gate.

Fred loved to talk about his family and how proud he was of his children and how much his missed his wife. I couldn’t help but think of how lucky they were to have him as their father or husband. I know I’m lucky to have met and known Fred. I wish I visited him so much more, but our time will stay with me and inspire me forever.

–Sarah Smith