The Fine Art of Printmaking is Etched in Students' Memories

Story posted December 29, 2011

arai with student
Tomie Arai (left) shows Helen Mohney '15 how to ink the etching plate.

Helen Mohney's room looks like you'd expect any first-year college student's dorm to look. Utilitarian furniture, a few art posters, clothing draped on chairs.

Except for one detail: It also includes a signed etching by renowned printmaker Tomie Arai, whose works hang in the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and many other important collections.

Mohney—and 17 other students in Carrie Scanga's Printmaking I class—actually helped the artist print the etching during a one-week artist residency at Bowdoin by Arai, sponsored by the Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project.

"It's crazy," said Mohney '15. "You're going to class, but in the middle of your day you're working with a famous printmaker on a beautiful piece of work. In the end we got to take a print. To have a valuable piece of art work that you helped with ... what a way to start off my time at Bowdoin."

Arai's fall 2011 residency was the second Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project at the College, a new initiative that brings together a visiting artist and master printmaker to work with Bowdoin printmaking students.

After working to meticulously ink and press Arai's solar plate etching at Bowdoin's Burnett Printmaking Studio, students then traveled to the Portland studio of letterpress artist David Wolfe to complete the letterpress portion of the print.

detail-karma
A detail from Tomie Arai's Karma.

Arai said it was the first time she had collaborated with a letterpress artist. "It's made me think about possible kinds of projects I could do now with letterpress that I hadn't considered," she said, adding: "It's remarkable to find a college that is so receptive to living artists, that gives me a work space, encourages me to collaborate with another printmaker ... and to have an exchange with students."

The class functioned as a master print shop for the new edition of prints, titled "Karma." In addition to keeping one print each for themselves, the class gifted a print to the permanent collection of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

"Each student has a world class print collection started, has been a donor to the museum and has had experience working intimately with a renowned artist, says Scanga, who is herself a printmaker.

"Some of these students learned things about printmaking they can use in their own work. Others may never have another art class again," she added, "but they can take away an appreciation for art making and become patrons of the arts. It's not so much about collecting as it is about loving art and wanting to live with it."

The Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project at Bowdoin College is made possible by a gift from the Marvin Bileck and Emily Nelligan Trust. Nelligan has funded the project in memory of her late husband, master printmaker Marvin Bileck, to continue the legacy of his work by creating opportunities for students to explore Bileck's expressive mediums.

Among the projects planned for spring 2012 is a weeklong residency by Nancy Blum, an Indiana artist who works on large-scale drawings and sculptural works for public spaces, and a lecture/workshop with Philadelphia printmaker Kristen Martincic in collaboration with the Maine College of Art.


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