National artists make their mark

Print Summit 2010

Nationally renowned engraver Oscar Gillespie could make a lot of things using sheet metal, possibly even money. The FBI needn’t worry, though.

“I’m too organic to make money,” he said. He paused, then added, “I’ll show you my bank account, it’s true.”

A small group of students and other guests laughed during one of many enjoyable moments during East Carolina University’s first-ever Print Summit 2010. From September 8–12, the symposium brought national artists to campus and created intimate settings in which they could interact with their audiences.

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Printmaking Professors Matt Egan (left) and Michael Ehlbeck (right) are two of the chief organizers of the Print Summit.

The symposium also complimented the “Survey of Contemporary Printmaking” exhibition in the Gray Gallery, which features the works of some of the summit’s guests, along with many others. The gallery is located in the Leo Jenkins Fine Arts Center, and the exhibit runs through October 2.

“I think the idea … is to recognize the contributions that people have made,” said Matthew Egan, assistant professor of printmaking in the School of Art and Design. “The fact that it’s a survey of contemporary printmaking is really aimed at just taking note of the various techniques, various approaches, various concepts that are being done.”

Egan and Michael Ehlbeck, professor of printmaking in the School of Art and Design, were two of the chief organizers of an event that they hadn’t originally intended to hold. While they were planning for the exhibition, they decided to invite some of the curators to campus. That led to more requests for guests to come and lead lectures and demonstrations.

“The co-curators were selected based on their significant contributions … at each given stage of their career,” Egan said.

The two professors also benefitted from the talents of ECU printmaking professor Heather Muise, who also helped to organize the event and put together the event’s Web site,

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Nationally renowned engraver, Oscar Gillespie led the “Metal Engraving ‘Myths and Techniques’” workshop.

The four-day event featured lectures, a publishing workshop, exhibitions, and a panel discussion led by the curators of the exhibition: Bill Fick of Duke University; R. L. Tillman of; Matt Rebholz of Texas State University–San Marcos; Beth Grabowski of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill; and Rochelle Toner of the Tyler School of Art.

Gillespie led the “Metal Engraving ‘Myths and Techniques’” workshop. A drawing and printmaking professor at Bradley University in Illinois, Gillespie spent two hours Friday morning showing his audience how to properly engrave on a sheet, answering questions along the way.

“What I’m going to try and convince everyone of is, this is easy,” he joked.

He talked while demonstrating his technique—and making it look easy in the process. He offered tips as he went along: the blade should be held at a steady angle; do not move your wrist when cutting into the sheet; the force should come from your shoulder; turn the plate as you go.

“When you’re moving the plate, there’s no slip there,” Gillespie said.

There don’t appear to have been any slips in the launch of the exhibition, either.

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Print Summit participant working on a large linoleum cut.

Two rooms in the Fine Arts Center currently host the “Survey of Contemporary Printmaking.” One room hosts the works of deceased artists, and a set of plug-in candles create a somber atmosphere in which to appreciate those works of art.

The other room contains the works of living artists.

Ryan O’Malley of Texas A&M University printed various people’s faces on a set of pillows for his work, “Pillows to Rest My Head.” An exhibit of woodcut paper and black-and-white images—created by Tom Huck and titled “The Transformation of Brandy Badhead”—featured a variety of interesting characters and patterns.

“This is really elaborate,” said one student to another.

One work, “Exorcising the Unconscious II,” currently hangs in the Gray Gallery. Created by Mark Hosford of Vanderbilt University, the screenprint features human arms reaching out of a fire; most of the scene is shaded in some form of green. A shadowed figure bends over the flame and opens his mouth, from which blue water pours out, possibly to ease the suffering of those below.

Those are only two of a wide selection of artistic pieces that have generated a response from people who aren’t even a part of ECU’s art programs, something that Ehlbeck finds encouraging.

“I find it very nice, even in the short time it’s been up, the folks from around campus who are not directly connected with the School of Art are coming over, wanting to know what’s going on, seeming enthusiastic about what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “And hopefully that will just spread where people come in and ask questions, a challenge to what they think.”