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A printmaker's haven

''Summer Press at Vinalhaven'' testifies to creative summers and giant talents on a tiny island off Maine's coast.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

"Summer Press at Vinalhaven" testifies to creative summers and giant talents on a tiny island off Maine's coast.

TARPON SPRINGS -- Vinalhaven Press existed for only 16 years, but the studio left an enduring mark. It was founded in 1984 by Patricia Nick, who trained as a printmaker but became a career museum administrator and educator. Her dream of establishing a master printmaking facility was realized when she found an abandoned schoolhouse during a vacation on a small island off the coast of Maine called Vinalhaven.

As with the legendary Tamarind Lithography Workshop in California and our own Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida, both begun in the 1960s, Vinalhaven Press attracted well-known artists who didn't have access to a facility that could produce complex, large-scale prints and who were intrigued by the collaborative process with a master printer.

The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art recently received a gift of about 20 prints created by 10 artists at Vinalhaven during its summer "camps," which ended when Nick, 75 at the time, decided to retire. It's a small number compared with the shop's output over the years, but they are superior examples of most printing processes, and the exhibition, "Summer Press at Vinalhaven," is a good primer on the medium. (Silkscreens are noticeably absent; Nick was not a fan of the technique.)

Robert Indiana is one of the best-known artists represented. Compare his crisp pop First Love, 1991, glowing with color and optimism, with Robert Morris' Continuities Portfolios, 1988, brooding, political statements on the horrors of war like the prints of German expressionist Kathe Schmidt Kollwitz. Both are aquatints, a form of etching, but they could not be more different in mood, theme and style.

Or look at the different way that Yvonne Jacquette and Robert Cumming work with monotypes. The former uses pastels to Monet-like effect in Vinalhaven Shelves and Ledges, 1991, while the latter displays draftsman-like precision in Swiss Army Knife, 1988.

Printmaking studios such as Vinalhaven have been crucial in introducing American collectors to diversity and sophistication in a medium that was misunderstood and underappreciated here for more than a century. An excellent accompanying gallery guide by curator Cynthia Duval gives visitors a history of Vinalhaven, a complete list of works on display and a glossary of printmaking terms.

"Crowd at the Grand Hotel" is a separate but related exhibition of prints by Croatian artist Boris Bucan. His "suite" of 22 monotype images of people has been arranged in a space furnished like a hotel lobby. Some of the shadowy images are suspended from the ceiling on monofilament and bob and sway as you walk around them. It produces a feeling of walking among ghosts.

Bucan uses color for background, but all the characters are starkly inked in black, surrounded by washes of more black. Viewers will see many things in these prints. In one, of a man carrying an object, three people disagreed over whether it was a broom, rifle or cello bow. As Leepa-Rattner Museum director R. Lynn Whitelaw said, "I like the Rorschach of it."

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REVIEW: "Summer Press at Vinalhaven" and "Crowd at the Grand Hotel: A print suite by Boris Bucan" are at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art through Aug. 24. The museum is located on the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College, 600 Klosterman Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; open until 9 p.m. on Thursday. The museum is closed on Sunday during August and on Monday year-round. Adults, $5; seniors, $4. Children and students with ID are free. (727) 712-5762.

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