School of Art celebrates two decades of printmaking

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
At center, Tom Raneses leads a group discussion on student prints at the beginning of “crit week.”

As Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution’s Don Kimes tells it, when he asked the artist Charlie Hewitt to start a printmaking program at the School of Art in the 1990s, Hewitt famously asked, “Can you get your hands on a screwdriver and a rock?”

The school didn’t even have a designated space for a print shop at the time, and Hewitt was ready to find the most basic way to carve a plate and press that image into paper.

“That kind of spirit is how this program started,” said Tom Raneses, who has run the printmaking workshop at the School of Art intermittently since 1996. He has shared the responsibility with Hewitt and other rotating faculty. This year marks Raneses’ 25th year as a master printer, someone who professionally prepares prints for other artists in addition to printing his own work.

“I love prints,” Raneses said, “because they’re unique, multiple images, which is unlike most other fine art.”

This season, 15 students, including one printmaking major, took classes twice a week with Raneses in the school’s brand new printmaking facility. The workspace used to be L-shaped, forcing multiple printers into a narrow space.

When the School of Art received funding to expand its ceramics studios, the old print shop had to move to accommodate these new studios. The printmaking workshop now occupies an open, square room facing the lake. It used to house figure sculpting and then became a room used for critiques before the printmaking shop took over this year. The school installed an updated ventilation system and new chrome sinks.

Bonnie Ashmore-Davis studied printmaking at the School of Art in 1992 and again in 1995. She returned to the grounds this year to teach figure drawing and spent her free nights printing the molecular bonds of cancer medications, her current project. She noted that the new design of the printmaking shop makes for a much more social experience.

“A lot of times,” Raneses said, “the shop doesn’t even close, because students are in here all night.”

Sara Nili enrolled in the School of Art as a painting student. Although Nili had never worked as a printmaker before, she quickly became “a printmaking diva,” Raneses said. Nili was hooked on the medium from the first day she walked into the printmaking workshop. She said she wanted to take advantage of the impressive-looking facility.

“Tom has so much patience as a teacher,” Nili said. “I think printmaking makes you patient in life. It can sometimes take a week of meticulous work to get through all the layers of a print.”

One of Raneses’ favorite parts of the season is the print trade, which takes place at the beginning of “crit week” — the students’ final week at the School of Art, when faculty and peers critique their summer work. During the print trade, the students, plus the School of Art’s general assistant, Paul Hauth, and Raneses himself, exchange the prints they’d made throughout the season.

The artists laid their pile of prints on a single wooden table in the middle of the room. Raneses gave each student 10 seconds to explain what inspired his or her prints, and then things were under way. While Raneses put dibs on all the first-edition prints, the first image printed from a particular plate, everyone else circled around the table, scooping prints into personal pizza boxes. By the end of the trade, each artist had one print by every other artist.

“It’s a chance for [the students] to have their own personal art collection,” Raneses said. “Prints are a great way to start a collection, because they’re relatively inexpensive and they’re beautiful and intimate.”

For the print trade, Nili made “non-editioned” prints, which means she printed only one image, rather than multiples, from a single plate. She used black ink in her printmaking, which she said taught her how to employ value, the relative lightness or darkness of a color, in painting.

Painting student Teto Elsiddique embossed a popsicle stick on printing paper and designed different ice cream patterns in pink and purple watercolor for each of his prints.

“I was looking at the food we were eating [this summer],” Elsiddique said, “and the best thing usually was the popsicles, so I just wanted to remind everyone of the delights we had at Bellinger [Dining Hall].”

For a break from the cafeteria food, Raneses treated his class to a pizza party after the print trade, commemorating the end of the season. The students talked about everything they had accomplished in the seven short weeks they had spent at the School of Art.

“You made a lot of printers this year,” painting student André Eamiello said.