Ten

Ten celebrates Zea Mays’ tenth anniversary, features eleven prints from faculty artists and is introduced with a topical essay by Craig Harbison, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The artists represented in the portfolio Ten include: Annie Bissett, Meredith Broberg, Liz Chalfin, Nancy Diessner, Anita S. Hunt, Louise Kohrman, Barry Moser, Lynn Peterfreund, Joyce Silverstone, Carol Wax and Mark Zunino.

Each print was hand-pulled by the artists and is housed in a letterpress printed folio impressed with the artist’s name, the title of the print and the medium. The folios nestle in a beautiful golden silk clamshell box with a copper foil title stamp.

The letterpress was designed by Michael Russem, Kat Ran Press and printed by Art Larson, Horton Tank Graphics. The boxes were designed and made by Sarah Creighton, bookbinder.

The Prints

Annie Bissett, 10 Little, 9 Little Indians, moku hanga (Japanese woodblock print)
This print is part of a series I’ve been working on since late 2008 about the early European settlers of New England. Between 1617-1619, virgin soil diseases brought by European explorers wiped out nearly 90% of the native population of New England, so by the time the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth in 1620 the site was deserted. A decade later John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that by these diseases God had cleared the land so that the English could claim it.

The figure of the Indian in the center of this print is taken directly from the 17th century seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Indian holds his arrow facing downward in a gesture of peace and from the mouth of the Indian emerge the words “Come Over and Help Us.” This was the Puritan vision: an American Eden, ripe for the taking and full of pagan natives eagerly awaiting the good news of the gospel. The present-day seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts still bears the image of an Indian, although he no longer begs for help. The red shape surrounding the central figure in this print is a depiction of the virus that causes small pox, and filling the background are shapes that suggest hepatitis and bubonic plague pathogens. All three are suspects in the 1617-1619 plague. The falling Indian figure that creates a pattern on the background is referenced from a watercolor drawing of Indians dancing by an artist named John White. White was sent on many exploratory missions to America in the late 1500s in order to document the wonders found there. White’s images were and still are indispensable visual evidence of the 16th- and early 17th-century indigenous world of the American Atlantic coast.

10 LITTLE 9 LITTLE INDIANS is a Japanese woodblock (moku hanga) print made with 6 carved shina plywood blocks and 6 watercolor pigments, hand rubbed with a traditional Japanese baren.

Meredith Broberg, Uplift , photopolymer intaglio
This image took shape after seeing a small photo of three pelicans, two wood storks and an ibis all flying in a momentary flock. There were bald heads and big pouches and disjointed wing beats, but they were all headed in the same direction, and all launched together into a moment of improbable grace. It reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of the community at Zea Mays. We are a mixed group with different ideas about art and divergent sensibilities, who come together to make prints. We all pursue our separate interests, absorbed in our own ideas, yet in sharing space we also share a commitment to the importance of images, a love of process and a generous exchange of know-how. We’re influenced by observing our different working processes, and inspired by each other;s discoveries. Bringing together the ten birds in “Uplift” suggests to me that possibility of diverse individuals moving in the same direction and flying further together than would otherwise be probable.

Uplift is printed from a photopolymer plate. The process starts with a thin sheet of metal coated with a photosensitive polymer, which when exposed to intense ultraviolet light and developed and hardened will produce a plate with subtle textures that hold the ink for the final print. I made a wash drawing on mylar to create the image used to expose the plate. This gave me a way to develop a detailed image while incorporating an organic process that is impossible to control. I used carborundum grit and acrylic medium to make some adjustments in the final plate, before printing the edition in varying shades of blue ink.

Liz Chalfin, The Studio, etching
The etching entitled In The Studio captures a moment in a typical day at Zea Mays Printmaking. Three artists at work, completely involved in their individual pursuits, yet united in a space bathed in the light streaming in from the windows. The intense patterning of the windows and the rhythm of the repeated forms allude abstractly to aspects of the printmaking medium: repetitive inking, editioning, transformation of materials. The “x” that alludes to the ties of an apron on one of the figures references the number 10. This “x” repeats itself subtly throughout the picture.

The image began as an acrylic resist aquatint on a copper plate. The aquatint was etched over the entire plate, creating a completely black image. I scraped and burnished the lights back into the plate, modulating the tonality through the use of different hand tools. The edition was printed with a combination of Charbonnel Black etching ink and Daniel Smith Creamy French Black etching ink on warm white Hahnemeule Copperplate paper.

Nancy Diessner, zea mays, photopolymer intaglio
My print for the Zea Mays’ portfolio 10 centers on the image of Liz Chalfin, who is Zea Mays Printmaking. As founder and director of the studio, it is her vision and spirit that inspire and sustain the place and the artists working there. The openness that is at the heart of what makes the community unique and alive is Liz’s contagious openness. In my print Liz’s hands reach down to the microscopic center of the Zea mays plant (and, metaphorically, to the expansive Zea Mays printmaking community), to the cells that make up the stem of the corn plant. Liz’s hands are conjuring something in those cells, symbolically enacting the unique properties of the plant itself (whose binomial nomenclature is Zea mays): purging toxic elements from the earth, cleaning and creating an environment that sustains life and health. Liz’s face merges with the silk fibers of the fruit of the Zea mays corn plant in a meditative peace, blending and glowing with the light that comes from the yellow silk.

This print was created using a photopolymer intaglio plate. These plates allow my process to begin with photographic imagery, but also to transform that imagery at several stages of the process. The ultimate print that emerged for this portfolio was the result of digital manipulation in Photoshop, transformations by hand of the film positive that was used to make the plate, and alterations on the surface of the polymer plate itself. The plate was printed chine colle with Mitsumata tissue on white Pescia paper.

Anita Hunt, Tassels II, drypoint
In thinking about the portfolio theme, I considered the number 10 as the representation of perfection or an ideal. My work is mostly about small moments. I am interested in dichotomies and balance: dark/light, up/down, object/reflection, alive/dead, presence/absence. In my recent prints with chine colle, I use the subtle color contrasts of the papers to conjure up new substances, and also to define the absence of drawing in the open spaces where the paper asserts its presence. I am always looking for places and forms in nature that suggest hidden layers of intention and meaning beyond the obvious. It is in that ambiguous territory that I can explore and discover a balancing point in my work between naturalistic detail and decorative construction and infuse it with emotion. Tassels II is a drypoint on copper printed in black ink on Pescia Soft White paper with gampi chine colle.

Louise Kohrman, Unwinding, spit bite etching with chine colle
Thru meditative work processes I create images that explore pattern, repetition, multiplicity, subtlety, interconnectedness and the present moment. While working on Unwinding, I used a spitbite aquatint etching technique to paint with ferric chloride acid directly on an aquatinted copper plate using a fine brush. I worked without sketches, the resulting painted image recording the present moment – an act of connection and balance. The print was then printed with gampi paper using the technique of chine colle, a process in which I concurrently print and mount a thinner sheet of printing paper onto a thicker backing sheet. Gampi is a paper I often use in my work because of the lustrous sheen and luminous printing surface it provides. Delicacy, intricacy, and attention to detail are important to me and this is reflected in both the techniques I use and the resulting imagery.

Barry Moser, James Joyce, engraving
When we set out on this course the project was called “Ten+ 1.” I wanted to avoid doing an image of eleven of something as my theme, so I went to a favorite source, The Psalms. In Psalm eleven there’s a storm and so I decided to do an image of clouds and lightning. But then I found out that the title had been changed back to its original: “Ten.” Alas, there’s not much imagery in Psalm ten, so I went another favorite source for solving such problems: the dictionary. The tenth letter of the Roman alphabet is J, and so to the J’s I went to browse and forage. And there I found Mr. James Joyce. Two J’s! So, given that double-J and my bent towards portraits, it was a natural choice for me to do a portrait of the great Irish writer. To that end I composed the portrait based on a photograph of Joyce made in Zurich in 1938. I transferred the composition to a resingrave block (cast polymer resin, a fine substitute for traditional boxwood) and redrew the image on the block. That done, I went to work with my gravers and engraved the block in about seven hours or so while a light Saturday snow fell on 8 January, 2010. It was then given over to Arthur Larson who printed the block at his shop in Hadley, Massachusetts. The paper is Zerkall, a mould-made sheet from the Kall Mills in Kall, Germany.

Lynn Peterfreund, Constellation, monoprint
The title, Constellation, is a reference to the way we experience connections that are ephemeral but never the less powerful when working in proximity to each other. The layered colors and interaction of the forms is also meant to evoke the way we negotiate living together. Zea Mays Printmaking has been a place for me where energy is generously shared, information passed freely between artists and the movement of change enthusiastically supported. The materials used to create the print: copper plate, etching, aquatint, spit bite, monotype, etching inks, rives BFK paper, some colored pencil, pastel, graphite.

Joyce Silverstone, Breathing, monotype
To create a variable edition monotype, I rolled a plastic plate with the blue form outlined on the reverse side of the plate. I subtracted away the ink to find the form, knowing that all 25 prints would have the same form. The shape came from a series of monotypes made from observing snapdragons. I chose the most human of these, the shape that suggested both flower and figure. What is variable is the white line. I followed and paid close attention to the feeling of 10 breaths, drawing with my eyes closed. That inner experience of movement, touch, expansion and contraction of conscious breathing is described by the white transfer drawing line. All the drawn lines record different moments of breathing. The print is a meditation concerned with change over time, attention to the present moment and the sensual experience of drawing a breath.

Carol Wax, Pip Pip Hooray, mezzotint
My to approach the “ten” theme came from my fascination with old toys, especially those broken or scarred in ways that document hours of use and play. Dominoes are a simple, fun game dating back to an age before kids were addicted to electronic games, and I love that you can line them up and knock them down. In lining them up, you create patterns of tiles and dots that modulate as they repeat. Modulations of tone, form, light, and patterns is something I’ve done in many of my other images to create the illusion that objects are moving, thereby suggests animation or life. While it was not my intent to suggest that the dominoes are alive, I did mean to suggest tension and a sense of moving forward (like Zea Mays is moving forward) or impending movement of the dominoes that are falling or are still standing and yet to fall.In keeping with the TEN theme of the portfolio, there are ten domino tiles, and the first five tiles each contain dots, or pips, that add up (in different combinations) to ten. An unintended incorporation of the ten theme is the ten-inch length of the plate. The title, Pip Pip Hurray, refers to the pips on the dominoes tiles and is meant as a cheer to celebrate the anniversary that prompted the creation of the portfolio

Mark Zunino, X, etching
X is printed from two plates both inked in black ink. Each plate has softground, aquatint (including spit-bite), dry-point, roulette and scraping with burnishing. Paper is Hahnemuhle Copperplate.

The content of the print is meant to bring together different elements into a cohesive still life, which is my preferred subject matter. The box and the bottle are representative of my particular visual interests, rigid geometry affected by organic transparency. The burnisher is representative of Liz’s etching studio, and the X is…, well…10.

Colophon and Credits

This portfolio celebrating the first ten years of Zea Mays Printmaking is limited in edition to twenty-five.

The prints were hand-pulled by the artists on papers of their choosing using a variety of both oil and water-based inks.

Typography and letterpress by Michael Russem at Kat Ran Press. Boxes by Sarah Creighton, bookbinder.

Ordering Information

Eight editions of Ten are available for purchase for $2500.

Inquiries:
Liz Chalfin, Director Zea Mays Printmaking
221 Pine Street, Studio 320
Florence, Massachusetts 01062
liz@zeamaysprintmaking.com
413.584.1783

Collections

Ten belongs to the following collections:

  • Zea Mays Printmaking Archives
  • The Hood Museum, Dartmouth College
  • The Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College, Northampton, MA
  • University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
  • The Southern Graphics Council International Archives
  • Yale University Art Gallery
  • Portland Museum of Art (Maine)
  • Boston Public Library

Essays

Zea Mays at Ten

Given a society that is virtually visually illiterate, an artist today faces the general problem of creating works emanating from deep personal feeling that will develop in others a visual sensitivity, allowing them to experience themselves and the world more fully. A further creative problem for contemporary printmakers involves the relatively short history of printmaking as a fine art: how to transform processes traditionally using toxic acids and grounds into something safer, greener, but still aesthetically rich and satisfying.

Zea Mays Printmaking Studio has clearly succeeded at these daunting dual tasks. This could be confirmed simply on the basis of its annual print fairs where hundreds of eager collectors spend hours trolling the bins of prints for sale. On a deeper level the achievement of artistic and economic success at Zea Mays over the past decade can be observed in its fruitful combination of strong individual creative talent alongside the spirit of the beehive, the collective environment which deeply inflects the works made there.

Cohesion at Zea Mays is first an issue of procedure. The sense of a carefully modulated graphic aesthetic of line and tone permeates the prints. The techniques employed are varied and innovative. Creativity grows from a lively exchange of new technical know-how. These printmakers gratefully recount how they first learned a technique from a colleague and go on to develop it further on their own: viscosity printing, chine colle, spit bite and acrylic aquatints, photo polymer plates, even experimenting with the traditionally safer media of drypoint, mezzotint, and relief engraving. The limits of printmaking knowledge are being extended, often through striking monoprints, while respect is still given to the roots of printmaking in a rich tradition of democratic reproductive image making.

It is the printing process itself that also fascinates and unites them, the frequently shared excitement about the inherent mystery of that practice—just what happens when a block, metal or plastic plate is manipulated, marked, inked and then pressed against a piece of paper—how thick or wet is that paper, of what color or texture? The result is akin to peeling a piece of fruit, finding the lush internal structure revealed, always unexpected and startling.

Together Zea Mays artists continue to produce art for domestic spaces without resorting to what might be called the “tourist trade” (seasonal views of the New England landscape, for instance). The local geography and culture are there in the prints in this portfolio: water, wildlife, Native Americans and corn, the sky, quiet meditation on the body, breath, on the old and the new. The imagery is visually complex and demanding, also in general intimate and integrative, seeking cohesion in the face of human frailty and perhaps even consciously in face of the destructive history of the larger world during the last ten years.

The prints in this portfolio invariably exhibit features tinged with longing, a longing embodied in a search for beauty, and, in particular, in a fascination with delicate effects of light and line as they articulate both surface and space, achieved at some point along the way by hand, by sheer physical prowess. They fly in the face of a contemporary obsession with immediate gratification. They are intent on inspiring a long and discerning look at the world around us, on teaching us what opening our eyes is all about. They represent the collective and counter-cultural hope that that need is not fleeting, not outdated, but crucial to sustaining life in a safer, greener world, however challenging that charge may be.

Craig Harbison, Professor Emeritus Art History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst