With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past several months has meant for them. Stefanie Dykes is a co-founder of Saltgrass Printmakers, a nonprofit printmaking studio and gallery located in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has taught a broad range of printmaking techniques at Westminster College, Snow College and Saltgrass Printmakers. She has an MFA from the University of Utah. In 2019, she was honored as one of Artists of Utah’s 15 Most Influential Artists.
I’m still here.
Like I had anywhere to go.
In May, working at Saltgrass Printmakers, no one else around, I was listening to the New York Times’ “Sugar Calling” podcast with Cheryl Strayed. Strayed was interviewing author Alice Walker. Snippets of that interview have stayed with me since:
“And what you do while you’re waiting means a lot. And so these periods when there is so much pain are great for deepening oneself. And that’s why study is a wonderful thing. I believe in study with my whole heart.”
“Yeah, it is. And I think … it’s good to, I don’t know, have them use this time to do something they never thought they’d have time to do. You might ask them, was there something that you thought you’d never get around to, that you’d never have time to do, you’d never have time to explore? This is a perfect time for that.”
I took Walker’s words as a personal challenge. I took her ideas as motivation for how I might be able to buoy-up my positive creativity and keep the press a site for experimentation and risk. I even found myself telling people that the Pandemic was the perfect time to take certain types of risks (not health related risks)! If whatever you tried didn’t work out, you could write it off to Covid-19.
I figured out how to make flat breads and pizza doughs. It is very humbling and awkward to have to text for help when your hands are covered in sticky pizza dough. The hunt for yeast was CRAZY. My pesto was great. I am definitely a one-pot kind of cook.
I took an online class through University of Utah Lifelong Learning, Preserving Foods Through Fermentation with Paige Collett of Cache Canning Company. I learned how to make sauerkraut, kefir water and wild sodas.
I planted a vegetable garden. I commissioned my friend, Randy Hankins, to create two raised bed planters made from steel for my front yard. I planted green beans, basil, oregano, mint corn and squash. I loved watching the vegetables grow. I loved watching my neighbors stop and smile. The squash and pumpkins were excessively exuberant and ran all over the lawn. The corn grew tall with several ears until the hurricane winds knocked them all over, but it was time to harvest the corn anyway.
Learning to cook and caring for the garden really taught me that “it’s all about timing.” Was it time to pinch back the basil blossoms? Was it time to turn down the soup to simmer?
I have enjoyed watching Josh Williams’ free Instagram classes on herbalism. Williams’ is one of the owner of Green Thread Herbs. His courses have challenged me to identify and locate all sort of plants and trees in my neighborhood and on the trail. Seriously, it’s amazing how much there is to learn about our wild community.
I hiked to Sunset Peak. I took my granddaughter to the desert, Grand Daddy Lakes and camped overnight in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I was even able to get Ed Bateman out to the Petrified Forest in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. While in Boulder, Utah, we visited Bobbie Robertson’s studio, located on Singing Earth Farm. I painted my front porch.
Right now, I’m waiting for wood to dry. After the hurricane, I collected wood from a 100-year-old Linden tree a couple of blocks from my home. The wood has been sectioned, the sapwood stripped, each open end dipped in wax. I’m going to learn how to carve spoons.
For a while there, I would sit on my back porch and watch the Black Hawk helicopters circle downtown Salt Lake City and the State Capitol building. I knew it was around 8:00 pm by the sound of helicopters overhead signaling the start of curfew. In response, political and social demonstrations. I made a shit-ton of protest posters! That’s what printmakers do. Right? We print posters for activists and concerned citizens to carry during marches. I was so angry I didn’t know how to cope. I participated in a few marches. I set author James Baldwin quotes in wood type on the Showcard press. I screen printed “Assault” Lake City above the silhouette of a Humvee.
I updated my 2003 Patron Saint of the Color-Coded Threat Systems print to reflect the insane system of guidelines that created more anxiety and offered little in the way of clear instructions on how individuals were to navigate the pandemic. To these prints, I added a spinner, turning them into a game of chance. I sent those prints out for free to anyone requesting one. Doing my small part to support the USPS.
In response to the news that the Bureau of Land Management was once again authorizing the “chaining” of Juniper and Pinyon Pine forests. I printed a small varied edition of prints, “Jackpumps.” I sold the prints online through social media and sent all the proceeds to Grand Staircase Escalante Partners group to support their education and conservation programs.
Sheesh! There’s been so much to be concerned with besides the pandemic.
Postponed and Delayed.
Saltgrass Printmakers had no workshops or classes until the end of August. I had agreed to teach a one-day woodblock workshop in partnership with University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning earlier in the year thinking the pandemic would have run its course by late summer or that I would cancel it if conditions weren’t safe to teach. We masked up and sanitized all our hands as we entered the shop. Seven students. Seven workstations with all of the tools and materials they needed. Three hours of instruction and individual carving time. It was a whirlwind workshop, but all the students left with everything they needed to continue at home. They were thrilled. I was exhausted. It turns out that projecting your voice and breathing through a mask wears you down, but it was worth it.
We cancelled our April National Poetry Day, but organized a Poetry Postcard project. Anyone who wrote a Lune poem and sent it to me, I promised to print their poem on a postcard. Participants got a full set of postcards. Anyone requesting a poem via social media received one in the mail. I guess I was trying to stay connected the best way I knew how back then.
We postponed our artist-in-residency program. Lenore Thomas from the University of Pittsburgh was planning on flying out late April. Lenore is with us now printing at the shop. She drove from Pittsburgh. She brought her own food. She used the Hilton Hotel app to reserve her rooms. She paid online. They sent her a digital key code. The room was sealed so she knew no one had been in the room since it was sanitized. Lenore basically only stopped for gas. We postponed any exhibition or public print demonstration with Lenore due to Utah’s high infection rate. She has the shop pretty much to herself and is getting new work completed.
I was invited to The Blue Galleries at the brand new Boise State University’s Center for the Visual Arts as one of six regional artists. We were each invited to create our own large print installation work. BSU has had to postpone that twice now. It’s currently scheduled for October-December, 2021. It’s difficult for them and for me, but the delayed opening has given me the time to rethink my concept, “What Are You Going to Carry Forward?” My recent work has been about living in an apocatastasis, which would mean that you survived the impeding environmental collapse. I’ve been thinking a lot about living through Glenn Albrecht’s term of solastaglia. IDK.
I was included in Jann Haworth’s Utah Womens’ mural and Modern West’s Right Here Right Now exhibition currently on display at Southern Utah Museum of Art. My contribution was a portrait of Carolyn Shelton. I was selected to participate with the Halophyte Collective’s exhibition at Salt Lake City’s Art Council’s Finch Lane Gallery, Myth and Memory. I finished my contribution to the “Common Ground” exhibition that Abe Kimball and Namon Bills have organized. That show will be on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, November – December, 2020.
For Saltgrass Printmakers members, I offered to teach Saltgrass members how to print cyanotypes. Those who were interested, I scheduled a private lesson with and walked them through the process.
You could see how learning a new technique helped each of them emotionally and creatively.
Early in the pandemic, I thought that a steamroller print event scheduled for the fall could work. I thought that a community print project could be a great creative goal for the artists and community.
Participating artists could carve their blocks while we were all in quarantine over the summer. Twenty-five artists picked up mandala circular blocks from Saltgrass Printmakers. I had the blocks prepared and ready to go home with the artists. The artists, experienced and beginners, had all summer to draw and carve their blocks. All this planning still depended on whether it would be safe to print outdoors where we could maintain social distancing. If it wasn’t safe then I was going to postpone the event until we could safely gather.
Well, we printed at the shop on Saturday, September 12th during what turned out to be one of the last days before the infection rates started to skyrocket. It was a great success. Participating artists, friends and family all seemed happy to be distanced and together that day. We printed over 30 prints. I’m currently looking for a location to display the prints outside in a community space. If anyone has a chain-link fence where we could display the prints, let me know!
Frankly, I’ve given up on using mascara and wonder what is the difference between Day pajamas and Night pajamas.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Categories: Still Here