The 2010 Northampton Steam Roller Printmaking Workshop went down on Saturday May 15th, as some what planned. Months of planning came together in the early hours of this day were for once in New England, mother nature was on our side.
I tailed behind one of my dearest friends, Dave Provost to the storage yard of the steam roller that Dave set us up with through a very gracious and greatly appreciated personal connection; his former employer Bousquet Excavating. I had not yet seen the steam roller and I was afraid of the possibility of it not being quiet what we needed, but it was and it was in fact quite cute!
(Dave Provost, our steam roller driver. Image from Frances Kidder, Steam Roller printmaking participant)
Meanwhile, Eben was on sight in the walkway between Thornes and the Northampton Parking Garage which we were set up with permission to use via C3. Running around like a maniac, Eben was getting set up with another one of our outstanding cohorts in this endeavor, Zea Mays Printmaking who offered their unwavering labor and equipment for the day to which we would not have been able to do this with out.
After some more setting up, we finally started rolling out prints and the first one seemed kind of bleak, we needed more ink, the second one, not so hot either. This was going to be a trial and error kind of day that honestly, I worried that after all these months of preparation and anticipation, people would not be very happy about it.
We only pulled a few prints with the steam roller, and I think the general feeling in the air was that this wasn't coming out as good as people expected. And then came a blessing in disguise, the steam roller broke, yes it broke.
At this point the real beauty of the day finally made itself known to us. Before the steam roller broke, it was as though everyone was milling around in a state of limbo, worried about the quality of prints being pulled and wondering when their turn was.
I am pretty sure this was Liz's idea, once again revealing herself as our super hero from Zea Mays, equipped with barren's, we all got on our hands and knees and hand pressed these massive prints. One at a time, side by side, getting sweaty, making our introductions, testing our muscles and personal space, we finally came together as a community. When the steam roller broke, we had to rely on the groups collective dedication towards the groups collective agenda; to make some big prints. When the steam roller broke, we almost instantly became a tight knit community lending all of our hands one at a time to help each other as individuals, one at a time.
(Images C/O Carolyn Webb, who's print is being hand pressed and pulled here)
It was also immediately clear that we as a group, with only our arms and some pieces of plastic and unbridled determination, were a better make shift press than our steam roller, the hand pressed prints were coming out better. Who knows, maybe our cute steam roller didn't weigh enough, maybe it was because we had to roll every print 2, 3, and I think in one instance 4 times, maybe it's that human determination and artistic spirit in conjunction with community drive are more powerful than 2 ton construction equipment. Yes, that was cheesy, but whatever some how it worked and we learned that a steam roller is only a vice in the world of over size printmaking.
Another really beautiful element of the day was all the people who just showed up, had no connection to anyone involved in any part of this workshop and got on their knees with a barren to help us out. One such man, from South America randomly happened upon us and helped out for quite a bit. Before he left, he told Eben that it was the best day he had had in America and that he wanted to go back to his home country and tell everyone about it and make something similar happen there too! Talk about a few simple words and how they alone seem to make all the work that goes into putting something like this together, more than worth it.
One important part of this project that really needs mentioning, not just because we are required to do so, but because it is really important on a greater level than crediting. We received a grant from the Northampton Arts Council through a grant round that was funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. With the grant we supplied free non-toxic Akua Ink, cleaning supplies, saw horses to prop boards to roll ink on, and other wooden supports for the workshop. Everything else was very generously donated and required the dedication and coalescing of a huge community for a one day event. Because of all this, we were able to require that our participants only supply their own blocks to carve and their own paper. It's not always clear how these things come together, who pays for what and where that money comes from. When people see, participate in, and experience, these kinds of things, the result is not always the turning of gears in their heads over the subject of funding for the arts. Well now is a good time to think about what is behind determining public funding for the arts, make your opinion known when these issues come about and think about donating to the arts because the pay off is huge for everyone.
So much of mine and Eben's time goes into organizing these kinds of things, and we are not paid, we actually spend a lot of our own money, which yeah, sucks but it's worth it. All the organizations that volunteered and donated time and equipment to this one majorly inspiring, productive and meaningful day were not paid and if the pool of funding for the few small things we were able to supply at this workshop were greater, we could have paid everyone involved, rightly as they deserve to be. These are the things that make our communities exciting and vibrant and despite being invaluable as it stands, this is all really great but it could be fucking mind blowing.
A lot of people benefited from this experience and we will do it again, we will do other things like this. If you live in or around Northampton, check out all the organizations that helped us make this possible (follow the highlighted text) and think about how you can help this become even bigger the next time around. If you aren't from around here, think about who in your community is making similar kinds of art related events that you can support and in what ways you can do that. And remember, it doesn't always have to be money, be creative, just like us.