In 1994, Moss Inc. moved its home from the Millville section of Camden to the former Journal Press building on Route 1 in Belfast, thereby becoming a landmark along that stretch of coastal Maine highway. As explained by Moss Inc.’s president Marilyn Moss in the Dec. 17-18, 1994, edition of the Bangor Daily News, the move was “the best available solution to our desperate need for more space.”

The company had sold off its signature tent line to Walrus Inc. in Seattle earlier in the year in order to focus on trade show displays. Moss Inc., she reported, had recently produced exhibition spaces for 14 businesses, including Microsoft, at a computer fair in Las Vegas.

That same year the man from whom the company got its name and vision, Bill Moss, passed away at age 72. As an architect of tensile fabric structures, from tents to fully realized homes, Moss became an international figure in the field. In her new book, Marilyn Moss, who was married to the designer for 21 years and worked in the business for nearly 40, offers what fiber artist Gerhardt Knodel calls in his foreword “a portrait of a man engaged in a personal search with public consequence.”  

Marilyn had met Bill in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1961; they married in 1963. In 1970 they moved to Maine, lured in part by memories of summer visits to Marilyn’s parents’ home on North Haven. In 1968, they had installed the “paper” version of Moss’s O’Dome design on the island; it served as their summer cottage for ten years, joining Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome on Bear Island as one of the most unusual architectural structures in the Maine archipelago.

A couple of years ago, faced with an attic’s worth of boxes full of company archives, with which she contemplated building a bonfire in the backyard, and confronting some unhappy memories related to her life with her brilliant but aberrant husband, Marilyn Moss took it upon herself to “honor and chronicle” his work.

She has done a superb job, from the wonderful array of images documenting the evolution of Moss designs to the narrative that carries us through decades of ups and downs in the world of fabric shelter construction. 

This generously illustrated book traces Moss’s life in design, from his early interest in the work of Eero Saarinen while attending the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee in the late 1940s to the triple-arched tent he designed for a residence in Phoenix in the early 1990s. Along the way, we learn about his work as an illustrator for Ford Times, the travel magazine (several of his covers are reproduced); his launching of the independent design firm C. William Moss Associates in Ann Arbor, which produced his early designs, including the ground-breaking pop-tent; his pioneering designs in paper products (including a foldable kayak); and the flourishing of his tent designs and much larger sculptural canopy pieces.

The book is an unabashed tribute to Moss even as it acknowledges some of the artist-designer’s flaws (we learn that he was not the greatest businessman). There are testimonials by colleagues, students and fellow designers, including a lovely remembrance, “Notes from Cloud Nine,” by sculptor Rico Eastman, an early employee whom Moss hired right out of RISD.

The final section of the book offers notes with photos from people who set up Moss tents in sometimes extreme locales. One couple, who had traveled in the mountains of Peru and Bolivia, stated: “Your tents did everything but cure hepatitis!”

The renowned designer Jack Lenor Larsen once called Moss “a true genius, not well enough known or credited.” This book goes a long way toward giving the shaggy-haired mustachioed man the recognition he deserves as one of the visionary architects of the 20th century. 

Part of the net proceeds from books sales will be donated to scholarship funds at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Carl Little’s most recent book is Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate).