A letter from visiting artist Roberta Feoli

Born in the city of Benevento, I moved to the north of Italy at an early age to study Graphic Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Urbino. After obtaining my degree I had an Erasmus training experience at the Accademia de Bellas Artes Alonso Cano in Granada (Spain).

As well as being a practicing artist, for a number of years now I have been the printshop manager and teacher of engraving techniques and the artist’s book at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica di Venezia.

There I had the opportunity to meet engravers and artists of the highest caliber. Always active on the International art scene, this winter 2018 I received a wonderful invitation as a artist in residence and special guest of the Boston Printmakers Association and the Mixit Print Studio.

Working with presses and ink, always with a smile and sincerity, I have met many professional guests artists that have passed through the printshop.

Characteristic of the many good relationships, meeting Liz Shepherd, was particularly important, sculptor, engraver and founder of Shepherd & Maudsleigh Studio and former ex-president of the Boston Association established; fundamental also, the famous Catherine Kernan, engraver and painter amongst the founders of Mixit Print Studio and explorer of the revolutionary Akua inks that for many years I have adopted as a material in my studio.

It is thanks to these two artists, Liz Shepard, Catherine Kernan, together with Renee Covalucci, the current president of Boston Printmakers and all the associates who have seen fit to support me, that this incredible trip to the USA was made possible.

The first week of my travels was in NY with Catherine Kernan, being in a new country, she took care of my artistic spirit and all my human needs. Every word she had for me was inspiring and her smile filled my heart with warmth. We traveled many miles together in the ‘Big Apple’; approaching the ‘new’ with childhood curiosity with at the same time, the self-confidence of a strong woman.

At the Fine Art Print Fair I was able to wander through the prints on sale and read the prices of a Rembrandt, almost buy a lithograph by Rops and then remind myself just in time, that I was not allowed to, rediscover Maria Pacheco and analyze original Goya and Sol Lewitt prints. What an indescribable joy to see so many great masters and so much history.

I was afraid of not knowing anyone on the scene, but in the entrance hall of the great River Pavilion Javits Center, even before I could get out the invitation to the exhibition, someone shouted my name! From that moment on I was between artists and gallery owners, I felt immediately at home as so many people I knew were there and I was really happy to see them.

Thank you to the many people who contributed & raised funds to cover the cost of my flight and my hosts in Manhattan. This in a nation divided between the struggle of the “me too” movement and in the climate of a problematic president, unwanted by insiders of the arts and culture sector.

Another important step of this trip was certainly the opportunity to enter and work in some of the most famous print shops in the US. One evening I drank a glass of rosé wine with the inimitable Claire Van Viliet founder of “The Janus Press” in Newark, Vermont. A woman who has made the history of American Typography. When she makes a new book she does it from paper production, typesetting to binding. A work that encompasses all phases of creation of the volume and that few in the world can boast of being capable of doing. At the “Two Rivers Printmaking Studio” at White River Junction in Vermont, I met a community of passionate and constructive engravers who make the art of making prints a reason to live. The “Vermont Studio Center” in Johnson, is perhaps one of the most famous artist residences complex in the world and I was lucky enough to be a guest of the founders, Jonathan Gregg and Louise von Weise, longtime friends of the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, who showed me the houses and studios built specifically to welcome artists from all over the world. In the evening I attended the critique at the theatre and in the morning exchanged ideas with artists of all age ranges and ethnic backgrounds. A timeless place between the snow and the forest where art is made in the true sense of the word, living in close contact with the many characters that keep the village alive.

In the Wingate Studio in Northfield, New Hampshire, Peter Pettengill, the famous master printmaker, showed me what it means to print in multiple colours on huge plates with an indescribable love for the most important names on the artistic scene and above all how to do all this with the tranquility and security that characterize a master. At “Muskat Studios” in Somerville, Massachusetts I spent hours talking with the founder, Carolyn Muskat, who is affectionately known as the “LithoQueen” and there is nothing to add to this. When you see her at work between inks and stones, you recognize immediately the regality of her touch. Shepherd & Maudsleigh Studio in West Newton in Massachusetts was a very important stop on my trip not only because one of the founders already mentioned offered me her home and her time but also because she was at the forefront in the collection of funds that financed my USA experience. In this particular studio I printed some monotypes that have given a new focus to my personal research.

Liz & Ben Shepherd are officially a mother and a father in my memories made of appointments, smiles, old black and white movies, evening ice cream, proud people who I will the never forget, on my life’s path.

At the end of my trip the satisfaction of being selected as a resident artist at “Zea Mays Printmaking” in Florence, Massachusetts, was a gigantic joy. Zeta Mays is a place where they investigate into materials and their dangers. Liz Chalfin, the mind behind this renowned center of investigation, instructed me personally, I learned techniques, recipes and secrets of the least toxic ways to print possible and how to combine them with the history that characterizes the European engraving.

 

For years I lived side by side with the myth of this place. I read about it on the internet, asked all the artists I met in my path and dreamed of visiting. What a joy see that 

letterpress colored like sugar paper. Finally awakened to discover that what you read online is all true. Students and artists, machines in operation, bicarbonate and time.

Oh, this place gave me the time I had lost for years in the bottom of my work-apron pocket.

From morning to night I learned and in the night I printed.

My space, copper, BIG ground, rollers, skills and paper was ready for me.

I gave a lot, I tried to do my best. I’ve been welcomed like 

an old friend and I’ve been instructed as a resource.

The pure pleasure was waking up in the morning, preparing a bowl of cheerios, sneaking into the studio and start

ing to do. One night at two o’clock I had a revelation like a flash of light in my brain and I went down to implement the unhealthy idea that had sprung up on my forehead. Do you have any idea what it means to learn after years of teaching? When you stop learning, the decline of the human begins and thanks to Liz Chaflin I saw the light again. She followed me, a
great honor, her husband supported and helped me as a loving dad and the assistants found a moment to make me laugh and show me their work.

I worked well, satisfied, with an audiobook in the speakers and hands dirty with Akua inks. A paradise for my tired limbs of engraver.

The diploma that was issued to me stands in my office in a shining frame and I am the first Italian to receive for intensive training in non-toxic intaglio techniques and this make me so proud of my self.

I can’t mention the many artists with whom I crossed paths on my way, made of many handshakes, exchange of business cards, visits to museums, conferences, ink under the nails, snow and hours of travel by car.

I saw the landscape change from the skyscrapers and the sirens of New York to the leaves of the fiery colours in the northern mountains and the secret houses near the lakes of New England.

I tasted root beer, fried chicken on waffles with maple syrup, turkey on Thanksgiving, Maine lobster sandwiches, pretentious high-end salads, homemade gingerbread, a moosehead, pumpkin cake, and hyper-sweetened Halloween treats.

I went through hundreds of crossroads and listened in passing to the stories of so many passers by, feeling lucky to be the one with a purpose in a hurry go to the next appointment.

I cannot name all the people who helped me, accompanied and supported me between Italy and the USA. I cannot even fully communicate how every step I took was synonymous of a mission. I was invited, I recounted my country through my work, inked up in new and different printshops and returned home with an extra specialism and the opportunity to travel again to let the world know that the art print in Venice is not slipping away but that there are still realities like the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica ready to teach the secrets of this immortal alchemical art.

Roberta Feoli