Steamroller Printmaking Ready to Roll 

Symposium aims to make an imprint on Idaho art scene

A steamroller is headed for Boise Art Museum. No, the building isn't being razed and the land sold to make way for a new fast food restaurant. Instead, on Thursday, April 28, at 10 a.m., construction work will become art work.

A steamroller will run woodblocks made by Boise State students and artists from across the Rocky Mountain region. The multi-ton flattening machine will function as a grand-scale relief press and will kick off the final day of the Rocky Mountain Printmaking Alliance's Inaugural Symposium.

Prints made by the steamroller will be formed using an adaptation of the exquisite corpse technique. Templates of an animal image--similar to those used on the event posters--were distributed by RMPA to various artists. Participants then carved their own section of the animal and put them together to form a collaborative print.

Boise State assistant professor Jill Fitterer, founded RMPA in 2009 after noticing a need for a central organization for Rocky Mountain-area printmakers. For her, the event is symbolic of what she hopes her organization can accomplish.

"[The symposium is] a way to create new connections and break the isolation, bring together a community in a new way and forge connections regionally," Fitterer said. "It's also a way for people to learn more about what printmaking is."

Although the events begin Tuesday, April 26, with custom laser-printed T-shirts, what artists such as Fitterer do doesn't typically include anything created with an inkjet printer.

"When I tell people my major, they think it's printing things on a laser jet printer and wonder how I can get a degree in that. So I tell them it's cutting-edge 15th century technology," Boise State student Erika Sather-Smith said with a laugh. "Just like any art form, it's a way for people to express themselves creatively."

Fitterer sees the steamroller event as a way for printmaking to gain the attention of those unfamiliar with the technique.

"It will make a spectacle of the art of printmaking in a more public format," Fitterer said. "And perhaps generate some interest."

For Amy Nack, owner of Wingtip Press--which allows members access to presses they typically wouldn't have after graduating from college--it's the way prints are made that draws her to the art form.

"It's very process-intensive," Nack said, "You have to come up with an image, a matrix, inking and you're managing the paper. It's an ageless art form and is done the same way as it was hundreds of years ago--it's a tradition. But there are ways to make it very contemporary, and it can have a definite social impact."

That social impact can be seen at the opening reception for the symposium, when works from the Leftovers II Print Exchange will be on display and both Nack and Fitterer will give introductory speeches.

The Leftovers project involves 120 artists from across the world, who each make 14 prints, send them to Nack, and receive 12 different ones by other artists in return. Each print deals with the idea of "leftovers," be it surplus materials or an image of something that evokes the idea in the artist. Nack will also help event attendees make their own relief prints on her portable press.

The sense of sharing and community is ever-present in the printmaking community. For Sather-Smith, being Fitterer's right-hand woman and working with her fellow students to put the symposium together has served as a sort of introduction to this idea.

"I've been in printmaking at BSU for four years and had the same fellow-students, and [working on the symposium] has been really nice because we've always been together, but this is the first time we have a common goal," Sather-Smith said. "I think the experience is a great microcosm of what RMPA is all about."

Fitterer was awarded a service-learning grant for the symposium, and students in her classes collaborated with communication students at Boise State to put the event together.

"Printmaking is a very community-driven art form," said Boise State student Julie McCreedy, who also helped organize the symposium. "It gets colleagues working together, and printmaking classes are unlike any other art I've class ever taken. It's fun and so much different. We want this symposium to be special for Jill. We're passionate artists for sure."

Other symposium events will include artist talks, presentations and demonstrations from Candace Nicol of Oxbow Press, Anne Hoff of the College of Southern Nevada, Justin Diggle of University of Utah, Andrew Polk of the University of Arizona, Kathryn Polk of L VIS Press, Stefanie Dykes of Saltgrass Printmakers and Melanie Yazzie of University of Colorado at Boulder.

Sather-Smith would like the hard work put into the symposium to resonate with artists and non-artists alike.

"I just want everyone to have a good time and to experience what I've experienced this past semester," Sather-Smith said. "I want them to say, 'Wow, I just met printmakers from like 10 different states and we did something together,' not feel like they went to a conference and saw some artwork."

Attendees are welcome to have some fun and network in a more casual way at the costume bowling night Wednesday, April 27, at Emerald Lanes. The event will allow everyone to unleash their creativity and crazy side, because, according to Sather-Smith: "Printmakers do know how to have fun."

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