By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Kentuckiana, Susanna Crum, assistant professor of fine arts for printmaking, and her partner, artist and educator Rudy Salgado, were forced to close their Louisville printmaking studio, Calliope Arts.
“We found ourselves alone with a fully-equipped studio for the first time,” Crum said.
It didn’t take long for events to mother a new initiative.
In early April, Crum and Salgado began a large-scale publishing project called C19: Art Works for Kentucky.
They invited 19 visual, literary and performing artists with ties to the state to publish open editions of hand-pulled lithographs, relief prints, screen prints and etchings, with a portion of proceeds from the sale of these works going to help fellow artists during the pandemic.
The guest artists include singer-songwriter Jim James, poet Ron Whitehead, visual artist Rebecca Norton, sculptor Joyce Ogden and many others.
Most of these creatives had never pulled a print in their lives, but they shared a need to speak out in this medium, to support both fellow artists struggling with economic hardship. As spring gave way to summer, and Louisville became a flashpoint in the nation’s reckoning with racial discrimination, the C19 project expanded to reflect the mood of the moment with unmatched immediacy.
“With international calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others, we support the many forms that art takes in communities: from providing a space for reflection or play, to calls for sociopolitical change, expressions of grief and anger over police brutality, and anti-racist interventions,” Crum said.
The prints are available for purchase on Calliope’s web store. Proceeds are split between the studio to cover materials and paper, participating artists, and the Artist Relief Trust, a state-wide coalition led by ELEVATOR Artist Resource to provide emergency assistance to artists in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Some artists have elected to donate their share to the Trust and other organizations.
To assist those artists unfamiliar with the various print media, Crum created how-to videos.
In the end, the project opened new vistas of creativity and community.
Pop-folk painter and portrait artist Anessa Arehart chose to explore linoleum block printing.
“I like the chunky, folk art vibe of the printed images,” Arehart said.
Her print for the C19 project depicts a woman in a kayak, beneath overhanging branches, with an invocation to find peace and magic in nature. For Arehart, who has founded and runs an art and nature sanctuary called Little Wing Hollow, the piece is a reflection of her focus during what she calls “this strange and uncertain time.”
Poet Ron Whitehead decided to render a poem via woodcut.
He discovered synergies between his written work and the carving of the printing block.
“In poetry the choice and placement of each word is of utmost importance,” Whitehead said. “With the first challenging cuts into the wood I realized how delicate the act of woodcutting is and how important and nuanced each stroke is.”
As the work progressed, this level of detail was daunting, given the task, but he threw himself into the project with determination, and soon found his stride in the new medium.
“I had stepped yet again into the unknown, into the shadow realms of the creative imagination,” Whitehead said.
Artist Mary Carothers, professor of art at the University of Louisville, joined the project because she wanted to assist at a time of need, to engage in a creative process that she hadn’t tried before and to collaborate with master printers.
She chose intaglio, or copper etching, seeing here a relationship to photography, an area of expertise.
“I strive to find a balance of simplicity and complexity in my creative process,” Carothers said. “Some of my recent work has involved working with rope and branches to evoke pathways that can be read as tributaries, veins or roots.”
For Carothers, the healing peace she derived from nature in her garden during the pandemic, was jolted by the energy of the social uprising.
“Now I not only reflect on life in relation to COVID-19 but also to a growing civil rights movement,” Carothers said. “‘I can’t breathe,’ the slogan associated with a relentless world-wide protest to police brutality, has connected our physical well-being to collective empathy and solidarity.”
Fittingly, her etching depicts the inner workings of a pair of lungs.
“For me, the veins appear as roots and the trachea suggests the base of a tree,” Carothers said. “The metaphor is simple: Grow…change…breathe.”
Crum and Salgado have seen the project strengthen their own sense of community.
“Rudy and I love connecting with others through teaching and the many problem-solving opportunities within printmaking processes, and it was so gratifying to connect with the participants in this way.” Crum said. “Though we started the project with the priority to respond to urgent financial need of visual artists during the pandemic, now … we’re also thinking about the ways that creative people can be generous to one another, and how much stronger we are when we connect and collaborate.”
Crum has also derived lessons from the project that can benefit her students at IU Southeast. In particular, the video tutorials provided a dry-run for the kinds of challenges she will encounter, and the tools she will need to provide, to a new class of students.
“In the fall, I won’t be able to give in-person technical demonstrations due to safety precautions for Covid-19: Our in-class sessions will consist of work sessions instead, where students are using the equipment and facilities, having already seen a demo online.” Crum said. “I was able to flesh out questions and potential areas of confusion with C19 participants so that I have a much better handle on how to prepare students to take on this degree of remote learning in the fall.”
For now, the prints continue to arrive at the studio, and Crum and Salgado continue to prepare them for sale online. The need for these novel works, and the perspectives they offer, abides.
So, too, does the appreciation for Crum and Salgado’s initiative among creatives who have found a new outlet.
“I will be forever grateful to Susanna and Rudy for inviting me on this amazing adventure,” Whitehead said.
Homepage photo: Detail from screen print by Anessa Arehart on kozo (mulberry) paper, 2020.