The People in Your Neighborhood: Yellow Bear Projects
I sat down with St. Louis- based artists Gina Alvarez and Robert Goetz this past summer to chat about their print shop and gallery space, Yellow Bear Projects. The space gets its name from an overlay of references including a Guided By Voices song and a haiku by Robert’s six-year-old daughter. Years of collaborations, creative intersections and planning led to the space’s opening in late 2012. Since then, the project has continued to evolve, carving out a unique place within St. Louis’s printmaking community.
Robert is a native of Missouri and Gina moved to Saint Louis from Wisconsin a little over ten years ago to attend graduate school. Both received their MFAs from Washington University (Robert 1996, Gina 2002), but didn’t become friends until a few years after they had each finished their graduate degrees. Robert begins the story of their acquaintance, “We had been in a show together and then Gina gave me a residency at the Artists’ Guild.” Gina was working at the Saint Louis Artists’ Guild as the Gallery Director at the time and the two bonded over their extensive background in printmaking. Combined, they have over 30 years of experience, with both having established a lasting presence in the area art community. The idea for opening a print shop had occurred to each of them at various points over the past decade. “It’s hard to find a place to print after grad school,” Gina says, “We each had had the opportunity to open a shop with other people but it didn’t feel right.” Robert supportively adds, “We wanted to utilize our combined skills of teaching, museum work, art administration and art making.”
The two thought that the print shop could be a place for conversation and collaboration with each other and the numerous artists and organizations they were previously connected to. Moving forward, Robert and Gina started scouting for locations. They met with Scott Ogilvie, Alderman for the 24th ward in Saint Louis City and found the site for their shop in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood. Robert snagged the shop’s first purchase, a Peter Marcus press acquired from a community arts non-profit in the city, and the momentum continued to build from there. The shop now has a Wright Combination Press, a Charlie Brand Press, and an aquatint box built by Robert, as well as etching facilities. Yellow Bear joins an active print community in St. Louis, which includes Fire Cracker Press, All Along Press, and Paper Boat Studios. The shop has an educational component, offering classes from time to time; the first class was a six-week course on etching. The next class, to be offered in Fall 2013, is on monotypes, collagraphs, and relief prints taught by Ruth Kolker. Yellow Bear also has an active exhibition space. Dementia, darling, a works on paper exhibition by Megan Sue Collins is currently on view. Yellow Bear also rents out their space to local artists who want to come in and print. There are also some limited edition print projects in the works.
Yellow Bear adds to the combinations of work and responsibilities in Gina and Robert’s lives. “We both have jobs and kids,” Gina says. “We’re in the place of establishing a community, deciding who we are and what we want to offer.” Robert teaches Printmaking and Art Appreciation at East Central College in Union, Missouri. Gina is Executive Director at VSA Missouri and uses the shop as part of her office. Both are practicing artists – Gina was recently in the exhibition Within an Evolving Horizon at the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis as a part of the Critical Mass Stimulus Award. With such full lives, they realize “it’s gonna be a slow build.” Robert concludes, “We have good equipment. We looked at a lot of models [of print shops], like Spudnik Press in Chicago…we will continue to grow.”