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Atlanta Printmakers Studio: An Interview with Stephanie Smith

[uds-billboard name=”aps”]The Atlanta Printmakers Studio (APS) is a non-profit community art center that offers printshop access, critical exchange, and collaborative opportunities between artists, as well as a number of educational events, workshops, and exhibitions. Since 2005, APS has made it their mission to foster printmaking on all levels, coming alongside both experienced and emerging printmakers in a supportive role through their program offerings.

Perhaps the most non-traditional event on their calendar is Print Big!, an annual project that brings together printmakers to print large-scale 8 foot x 4 foot woodcuts on fabric. The event is held outdoors at APS, and a steamroller is used as a printing press to roll over the woodcuts. The resulting prints are huge and beautiful, and the event serves as a lively exchange–bringing together volunteers, artists, and community members from across Georgia.

Recently I spoke with Stephanie Smith, former President of Atlanta Printmakers Studio:

Sage Dawson: How did the Atlanta Printmakers Studio begin, and what was your involvement?

Stephanie Smith: After graduate school, I was teaching at several colleges and community art centers in Atlanta. At that time, there were a lot of printmakers who wanted to work but with no place to gain press access. The Atlanta Printmakers Studio started in 2005, the same year that two tragic events befell the Atlanta printmaking community. The first was the death of Wayne Kline, who was a Tamarind master printer and ran Atlanta’s Rolling Stone Press. At the same time, the Atlanta College of Art (a 100-year-old art school which had a strong community education program) was sold and merged with Savannah College of Art and Design. Adding to these losses was the folding of Nexus Press, an artist book press, a few years earlier.

Losing these printmaking resources was the tipping point which galvanized me to begin the Atlanta Printmakers Studio. Two other artists who had the same vision, Kathy Garrou and Andrea Emmons, committed with me to co-found the community print studio.

Luckily, there was a good amount of interest in printmaking in the area. Kathy, Andrea and I, along with Terri Dilling and Judy Winograd, reached out to a broad network, including people who had taken classes at local community art centers, students and professors at local colleges and universities, graphic designers, art curators/collectors and art supporters. We organized several brainstorming meetings and determined what we wanted to create.

SD: You’re the former President of APS, right?

SS: Yes, I served as President for the first 5 years as we developed the organization. The board is all volunteer but It was the equivalent of a full-time job, and since I already had a full-time job teaching at the University of West Georgia, after 5 years it was time to pass on the reins. We hired a director (co-founder Kathy Garrou) which has added stability to the organization. I continue to serve on the board and coordinate the Print Big! event.

SD: The Print Big! event is such an ambitious project! How did it get started, and why did APS feel it was important?

SS: The Atlanta Printmakers Studio began as a group of people passionate about printmaking, community, and collaboration who wanted to pool together to create an organization. Print Big!, our steamroller printmaking event, started in 2010 as a way to collaborate on a common goal at a large scale. The event brings together a lot of different groups in the art community, including those unfamiliar with printmaking.

The unusualness of the event, making 8 foot by 4 foot prints with a steamroller, gets a lot of people’s attention. Each organization spends two to three months planning and carving the blocks before arriving for the massive, day-long event at APS. During the event itself, each group prints three times. APS supplies the fabric and ink, and over fifty volunteers help out for the day.

SD: This year’s event will be held April 13th. Do you already have the line-up of participating artists?

SS: Each year we pull together a variety of organizations: some experienced printmakers, college students, and local artists, and other groups include high school and middle school students. We have worked with almost all the colleges in Georgia with printmaking programs, as well as arts organizations like Hammonds House Museum, WonderRoot, local community arts centers (Abernathy Arts Center & Southwest Arts Center), and a group of sculptors called the Art of Such & Such.

This year we have 10 groups participating in Print Big!, including our own Atlanta Printmakers Studio members, Kennesaw State University, Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, University of West Georgia, Sunday Southern Arts Revival, North Atlanta High School, and Shiloh High School.

SD: What happens to the prints afterward?

SS: Each group keeps one of the prints and APS keeps two, one for the APS archives and the other for our annual art auction.

SD: I’m curious about the prints themselves. Is there any sort of theme for the event?

SS: Yes, the event does revolve around a theme. The last two years we focused on literacy. This year the theme is southern stories. We try to keep the themes somewhat broad so that each group has a lot of room to interpret the theme and create a unique image.

SD: What types of prints came out of the literacy theme the last two years?

SS: Last year the group from Clark Atlanta University/Morehouse and Spelman Colleges created a beautiful print with a portrait of the writer W.E.B. DuBois. It’s being exhibited next month at a conference honoring the DuBois legacy. Another was Kennesaw State University’s print featuring Gutenberg and the revolutionary invention of movable type.

SD: How has the event been received by the Atlanta art community and the public in general?

SS: We have had a great response. We even have a waiting list for participants because there’s so much interest. We can only handle 10 groups for the event, which usually equals about 300 people who attend and get a whole new perspective of what is possible with the medium.

SD: I can imagine there’s a lot of excitement while the steamroller is rolling over a woodcut.

SS: Oh, yeah! The kids really love it–what kid doesn’t want to be up close to a big piece of machinery in action. Most people are a little astonished that it actually works–that you can make a piece of art with a non-art tool, and the scale is so much larger than is typically associated with prints.

SD: Beyond the steamroller prints, are there other events or programs that take place during Print Big!?

SS: It’s a printmaking extravaganza, because we also have tours and demonstrations in the studio, guest artists like Amos Paul Kennedy and Sean Starwars, and smaller portable presses for kids to use. We also print t-shirts on our etching press and have a food truck on site. In the past we have incorporated live music, poetry readings, and a photo booth.

SD: It seems like Print Big! is a crucial event, playing a major role in shaping the APS community.

SS: Yes, Print Big! is our largest outreach event. In addition to the actual event, we design other outreach programming throughout the year to tie into the Print Big! theme. With the reading and literacy theme we have organized letterpress and bookbinding workshops and worked with poets and writers.

We love having so many different groups converge at our studio during the event. It shows the interest and relevancy of the medium. Bringing different groups from high schools and Georgia colleges has exposed the students to opportunities for internships, exhibitions, our artist-in-residence program, and classes and workshops. It is important to us to be a part of nurturing the next generation of printmakers.

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