In January I attended an exhibition of original prints at the Sears Gallery in the Dolores Dore Eccles Fine Arts Center on the campus of Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. My experience so far with prints was limited so I was captivated by the rich colors and diversity of not only method, but end product—from black on white to entire printed books and Andy Warhol-inspired color-splashed images. I was determined to understand more about the techniques and about the odd people who would go to such lengths to produce this form of art.
If the term “original print” does not make sense to you, note that these original prints are not to be confused with copies of watercolors, oils, or pastels such as “Giclee” or “photo-lithographic” prints. A print is an impression pulled from an original stone, block, screen, plate or negative. In a recent presentation to the Southern Utah Watercolor Society, Kathy Cieslewicz (pronounced “CEES-el-witz,”) an enthusiastic and gifted printmaker and Curator of the Sears Gallery, related the printmaking process to the oldest known art form, the cave art found in France and Spain, where a raised or lowered part of a carving becomes part of a painted image. Similar art forms have continued through the ages, from gravestone rubbings, to the earliest actual relief printmaking on paper in China in the 8th Century and the European development of printmaking with the use of the printing press. Then as now, a press is extremely expensive and typically requires more than one person to operate, so as Cieslewicz explained to us, printmaking is by necessity a “community” art form. Printmakers get together to complete many of the steps. They also share the equipment due to the high price of the press. Printmaking falls into several categories, new methods are being developed all the time and many of these are available to our local communities through visiting workshops like those at Saltgrass Printmakers. Community is important for printmaking to thrive and Cieslewicz and a number of artists in Utah’s Dixie have found that community in “Southern Utah Walking Lizards,” a printmaking group in the St. George area who shared the Sears gallery exhibit space with two groups with whom they have strong ties, the Saltgrass Printmakersin the Salt Lake area and the Southern Utah University student printmakers in Cedar City.
Cieslewicz keeps a “short list” of people who originally started the Walking Lizards, and who are still active. Besides herself, this list includes Brian Hoover, LuAnn Williams, Birgit McMullen, Christa Jensen, Zach Hicken, Robert Hansen, Alisha Tolman, Cynthia Gough, and Shannon Eberhard. The group began in 2003 during a printmaking course with Professor Brian Hoover. Hoover, Cieslewicz says, is “the cement—the foundation, the studio, the mentor. I think that must mean that I’m the glue who keeps the printmakers together!” Hoover, originally from Hershey, Pennsylvania, received his MFA in Printmaking from the State University of New York. Although he also works in oils, he has always had a passion for printmaking. As a teacher he says he would jump at any chance to teach the form. This is evident in the excitement that he has created in his students. Hoover came to Cedar City in 1995 and quickly decided that this would stay his home. Eight years later, in 2003, he says there was “this remarkable class of outstanding students…who raised the bar” and the Walking Lizards were born.
Cieslewicz was in this group of mostly older students returning to school, and says “the group created a synergy, working off of each other and with each other…there was a contagious energy.” Their creativity “fed off of each other”. They had print exchanges where artwork was shared between students. They also began a semi-annual student print sale, which continues to attract Cedar City clientele to this day. Cieslewicz became a leader in the group and Hoover says his role ever since has been “that of facilitator to make sure the baton is passed” to the next student leader. He tries to keep the students organizing and running the group themselves, as it was that first year. Each year there is a spring and Christmas sale of student prints. The school faculty is most supportive, and interestingly enough, the English department at SUU purchases many of their pieces at these events.
From that original class in 2003, the group has continued to grow and now includes about 25 more printmakers who are active in this area and associated with the group, including Royden Card, Claire Nau, Gian Ferrari, Lindsay Thompson, and Janece Winder. When asked what attracts her to this type of art, Cieslewicz immediately talks about the sense of community. “We are loosely formed, but supportive of each other . . . Some people say printmaking is about the process, not the product, but also, with printmaking you often have an opportunity to focus on the content and the meaning of the work. But you may not be totally aware of what you put into a print. The thought process is different from a landscape, which gives a sense of time and place and sometimes sense of going home.” Prints tend more to open a window into the artist’s psyche, to expose more of what the artist feels than of what he or she sees.
So how does Cieslewicz see the future of this group? The Southern Utah Walking Lizards is now at the crucial point that many grassroots arts organizations face. They have been operating for several years, have a good following of participants, but they have reached the point where they need to develop a more organized structure that will allow them to realize their full potential. As with many organizations in the state, the two greatest obstacles are time and finances. Cieslewicz says the group needs to purchase a studio and equipment so they can better serve their members and register as a non-profit to be able to access grant money. Cieslewicz’s experience with the group has been energizing but with her full-time position at the Sears Gallery she doesn’t see herself with the additional time to devote towards this type of development. Finances are needed too. Even non-profit status requires a fee to file the IRS papers. That non-profit status is required to seek funds from other organizations. This is an exciting time for these artists, full of opportunity and hard work, too.
As can be seen from the work produced by this group of artists, print collecting doesn’t need to be strictly that of famous artists. The Southern Utah Walking Lizards are gifted people with a passion for their message and a challenge to push their skill and creativity. If you would like to know more about the environment that created the Southern Utah Walking Lizards, check out the SUU website.
Lisa B. Huber is a native Utah artist who works in pencil and watercolors. She is also a published poet and writer, works by day as a Software Developer, and resides in Washington City, Utah.
Categories: Organization Spotlight | Visual Arts
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