NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 20, 2013

UMass' first 150 years gets its due from local company

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT – A local book-publishing team with experience with both education and regional institutions recently completed a handsome retrospective that should have a captive audience in this area: a history of the University of Massachusetts.

The book is “UMASS RISING: The University of Massachusetts Amherst at 150,” (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2013, $29.95.)

The producers are Peter Blaiwas and Brian Hotchkiss, who make up the firm of Vern Associates. Residents of Newburyport, they recently moved their small firm to Amesbury.

“We’re pleased with the way the book came out,” said Hotchkiss. “The process went smoothly, and we had good material to work with.

“The university has a great archive, and we were able to choose from a wide variety of images to put a history together.”

Blaiwas and Hotchkiss didn’t actually write the book. Katharine Greider, a New York free-lancer, had that task.

But in this line of work, the duo did the heavy lifting by creating a winning proposal and putting the pieces together that resulted in a rough draft of the book.

They melded maps, photos, time lines, illustrations and artistic renderings with a historical narrative to produce a handsome 168-page product appropriate for the most sophisticated coffee table.

University officials reviewed every page for accuracy and style.

The story starts at the beginning: “Just one year after President Lincoln signed the Land-Grant Colleges Act into law, Massachusetts Agricultural College embarked on his mission to offer instruction to the state’s citizens in the ‘agricultural, mechanical and military arts.”

A preface continues, “Its faculty of four and student body of 56 is a far cry from (today’s) count as UMass Amherst celebrates its sesquiscenntenial: faculty of almost 1,200 and total student population of just under 28,000.”

In this team effort, Blaiwas provides the design and production, and Hotchkiss contributes the title development and editorial work.

“The UMass team was great to work with,” said Blaiwas. “One thing that we learned was there is a great affection for the school, by those who work there and the alums throughout the area.

“This is a state that has nationally prominent universities and a lot of fine colleges. Not enough people know how good UMass is.”

Hotchkiss added, “UMass is a great school, and those from outside of the region recognize it as such in the same level as major universities like Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Caroline Russell, a UMass graduate (’80) who lives in West Newbury and observed the progress of the text, said, “The academic reputation of the school lags behind its worth.

“UMass ranks high and in that sense the title of ‘UMass Rising’ is appropriate; it’s rising and growing, and the reality is it offers a great opportunity.”

The university has about 235,000 alums, according to school officials.

The book, which was published in Hong Kong, provides a well-illustrated retrospective of its past and offers an extensive look on the campus plan for the future.

In the world of book publishing, the two-decade-old company has found a niche: non-profit institutions that seek a quality product for their high-end readers.

Clients have included the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum and the Clark Institute of Art.

Educational clients have included Harvard University, the Riverdale School and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Vern Associates, so-named after a publisher from whom they acquired the company, has also produced texts on esoteric and intriguing topics such as architect Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT and an illustrated tome titled “The Big Dig: Reshaping an American City.”