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Art Facts: a place for printmakers

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When asked about printing, Deborah Maris Lader believes, most people envision imposing high-tech machines that spit out thousands of copies of just about anything in seconds. "One of my goals," says Lader, founder and director of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, "is to educate the public about the differences between commercial and fine-art printmaking. I get phone calls from people all the time asking, "Do you do business cards? Wedding invitations?' I understand the confusion because many things are called a print."

Lader, now 30, began studying sculpture about ten years ago at Cornell University in upstate New York, not knowing what printmaking was. "I loved to draw, but I loved sculpture more because it was so physical. I loved using my hands to form and shape the result." Then she took a class in relief printmaking, or woodcut. "Here I was, drawing and using the same materials you use in sculpture, without having to sit up and grind away breathing dust all night."

Lader married and moved to Chicago about two and a half years ago, leaving her position as assistant professor of printmaking at Indiana University/Purdue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. After searching the city for accessible, good-quality printing facilities and finding nothing to her satisfaction, she emptied her savings account and opened her own shop at 1101 N. Paulina. "It was one of the scariest things I'd ever done," says Lader. "I basically took everything I owned and put it into this."

One of the more difficult problems Lader encountered was acquiring all the necessary equipment and materials. For example in planographic printing, or lithography, the image to be printed is drawn on a slab of limestone with a grease pencil. But the stones are hard to come by, says Lader. "The art of lithography was rejuvenated during the 60s and 70s, but also during that time people were switching to new technologies. I have heard about several shops that have simply dumped their stones in Lake Michigan, or people who have paved their yards with them, or whatever."

But by September 1989 she had founded the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, providing the studio as a working environment for professional artists who have experience and interest in printmaking. To become a member an artist has to interview with Lader, and once accepted pays a monthly fee, gets a key to the shop, and attends periodic meetings of the group. The collaborative currently has 18 members with diverse backgrounds and a wide range of techniques, including lithography, intaglio (in which an image is acid-burned onto a metal plate and paper is pressed into the resulting grooves), and relief (woodcut).

Many printmakers have trouble pursuing their art because of "the inaccessibility of the presses and the cost," says collaborative member Obaji Nyambi. Another member, Susan Wein, whose expertise is in intaglio, hadn't made any prints since she finished art school four years ago. Now she's been able to do it again. Lader's presses, she says, "are good quality, and there is proper ventilation--all of these things affect your work."

For Wein, the process of making prints is just as exciting as the outcome. "It is a good medium for any artist because there is so much experimentation going on. You could use ten different plates, or two plates, thick paper or thin paper, you could slip something on top of the paper for a layering effect, and use heavy or light pressure on the press--it could change at any time during the actual making of the print. There are always surprises."

Lader opens the shop up to guest speakers and visiting artists, and she teaches classes in different print media for both beginners and advanced students. She also offers demonstrations of lithography, etching, and relief printing that include a slide show and a presentation of original prints and plates. But for Lader, the work produced by the collaborative is the most exciting aspect of her efforts.

"It's very exciting to me because we are literally using the same methods that were used hundreds of years ago to create very contemporary and abstract images. Every member is such an individual, and so accomplished in his or her own right, and yet we have all come together as a group because of our passion for printmaking."

An exhibition of prints by the members of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative opens March 13 at the Near Northwest Arts Council Gallery, located at 1579 N. Milwaukee, suite 301, and runs until April 25. The gallery is open Friday and Saturday from noon to 5. Other viewing hours can be arranged by appointment; call 278-7677. For more information about the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, or to receive a schedule of classes, call 235-3712.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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