In 2022, Zea Mays Printmaking was invited to participate in the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center’s exhibit Artful Ice Shanties. In the museum’s own words, the exhibit is “a place-based celebration of artistic talent, creative ingenuity, and the rich history of ice fishing at the Retreat Meadows.”
Participating in this exhibit meant building a structure that would not only withstand the wet and cold of a New England February, but also represent our community and the work we create. Zea Mays faculty member Nancy Diessner stepped up to lead the project.
A three-dimensional printmaking project represents a unique challenge. Fortunately, Nancy had experience with the process, thanks to her practice of creating paper boats made from prints. With the skills necessary to turn two-dimensional prints into a three-dimensional object, and additional knowledge from sculptors Linda Bills, Stephen Dallmus and Louise Wallendorf, Nancy assembled a team of artists to build the shanty from the ground up.
Artful Ice Shanties is themed around ice-fishing. Diessner found the communal aspect of that tradition as the inspiration for our shanty’s design. “Though ice fishing may sometimes be a solitary endeavor, what an ice shanty represents is a place of warmth and shelter from the elements, often shared in community with fellow fisherman, but fundamentally a place where one’s spirit and energy are renewed in the face of cold and ice. Reflecting on the idea of a shared place of warmth and shelter, we looked at our own community of artist printmakers at Zea Mays Printmaking. As artists, we often work alone; but since 2000, Zea Mays has been a communal studio of support, education, and friendship… Our artistic work comes together as the sheltering structure of this small, peaceful space…as an ice shanty, and as a community studio.”
Over the course of two months, teams of studio artists came together to carve the floor of the shanty, assemble the outer shell and arrange the prints for both the inside and outside of the structure. Everything was adhered to a wooden armature and coated with acrylic medium to make sure the prints could withstand the elements.
All of the plates were donated by members of the Zea Mays Printmaking community, and represent a variety of techniques that we teach here at the studio, including monotype, etching, photopolymer and woodcut printing. “The topmost section is made from plexiglass plates used for monotype printmaking processes, and the imagery on these plates reference the sky and cosmos—worlds that are over our heads but very far from us. The next layer down is comprised of the metal plates used for etching techniques. The imagery on these plates leaves the cosmos behind and looks at the world around us, though from a distance: landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes distant from where we stand. And the lowest level is filled with woodblocks that are used in relief printmaking. On these plates, the subjects are brought up close to us: portraits, ice fishing tools, boots, mittens. These three levels represent three ways of experiencing what is around us in this life…”
The shanty was brought up in pieces to Brattleboro on February 18th. The weather was too warm for the shanties to go out on the ice, so instead they were assembled on the grounds of Retreat Farm. They looked pretty good basking in the sun!
By the time the award ceremony on February 25th rolled around, the area had seen some snow and the shanties were a bit more in their element. People gathered on a snowy Saturday morning to see the shanties, drink some hot cocoa and wait for the awards to be announced.
We picked up the award for Most Artistic Shanty! As you can see, the Zea Mays Printmaking members who braved the weather to attend the ceremony were thrilled with the results.
At the conclusion of the exhibit, the shanty moved to The Brooks House in Brattleboro, a residential and shopping center at 132 Main St, Brattleboro, VT, in the atrium, before settling at its permanent home at the Brattleboro Retreat Farm.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who contributed their time, labor and art to this project: Suzanne Artemieff, Linda Bills, Susan Byrne, Liz Chalfin, Pam Crawford, Stephen Dallmus, Tony Lemos, Paul Lewis, Doris Madsen, Tekla McInerney, Dominique Pecce, B.Z. Reily, Julie Lapping Rivera, Annie Silverman, Joyce Silverstone, Louise Wallendorf, and the many Zea Mays Printmaking members who donated prints and printing plates.