Visual Art 9-3-2009

Celebrating 10 Years of the Northern Printmakers Alliance

Ann Klefstad marks the 10th anniversary of the Northern Printmakers Alliance with a tribute to the distinctive, contemplative sensibility and quirky wit that drives the varied work made by this tight-knit community of accomplished Northland artists.

"10" Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Northern Printmakers Alliance
The front room of Northern Prints. Here is where readings and music happen.
Northern Prints - interior shot
Northern Prints - interior (the fireplace and piano)
Northern Prints - dining room, gathering spot

RECENTLY, THE WORKS OF 32 NORTHLAND-AFFILIATED PRINTMAKERS, members of the Northern Printmakers Alliance, appeared in a show in the Bloomington Art Center. There were no reviews — arts journalism has fallen on hard times — but the show was highly visible in the busy 1960s-era building: its glass walls face municipal buildings, and the participants of the center’s dance and theater programs come and go. 

This exhibition was an important occasion. Seldom do the works of one half of Minnesota travel to be seen by the denizens of the other half. Sensibilities are subtly different in the two realms, one tends more toward ambition and action, the other inclines more toward contemplation and perception.

This show of prints was a good representation of the range of northern artists. Of the 32 printmakers represented in the show, here are a few:

Robert Repinski, who teaches printmaking at UMD, produces work that is sometimes edgy, concerned with gay identity and issues surrounding AIDS; but it’s also elegiac and contemplative, as well as beautifully made.

Matt Kania is a cartographic illustrator from Chicago who feels he’s found his artistic home in Duluth — the quirky humor of his lovely Porcelain taps a droll vein that’s often found in work made by artists living up here.

Kurt Seaburg, also from Chicago, is a printmaker who works and shows in the Twin Cities, but his artist statement feels pretty northern all the same: “One of the tasks of the artist, I feel, is to remind us where our strength and power lies — in beauty, community and a sense of place. Nature has always been a theme and source of inspiration in my work, in particular the spiritual qualities that I find there.”

Christine Herman also shows in Minneapolis, then again, she writes, “Inspired by the inherent harmony found in nature, my work follows the metaphors and rhythms of the natural world.”

In other words, among these artists, there is the strongest possible current of work that strives to, let’s say, see the lifeworld around the artist rather than to express an internal weather. This does not mean that the resulting artwork is not ambitious, but it does mean that its ambition is directed at a horizon other than that of immediate cultural currency. It’s art beyond chatter.

Cele Lieder, the show’s curator, is a longtime printmaker in Duluth who believes in the value of art in community, and community among artists. Her gallery, Northern Prints (situated on the lower floor of her stately 1891 home), has been a center for cultural collaboration across a variety of media. The gallery’s house press, Calyx, has received many awards for its books featuring area poets and artists working together (see Ellen Sandbeck’s 2007 article, “Believing”, for more on Calyx). Most recently, Calyx brought home the Northeast Minnesota Book Award for Trail Guide, a collaborative collection between artists and poets featuring such excellent writers as Bart Sutter, Connie Wanek, and Louis Jenkins and noted printmakers like Betsy Bowen and Gendron Jensen.  Readings take place in Lieder’s gallery/house, and musicians also perform.

Northern Prints Gallery is taking a new direction lately, with the addition of shows of work by printmakers from around the world: the last one of these, called Wild Journey, was an exhibition of work by two printmakers who celebrate the wild: Fred Mutebi from Uganda, and Anna Maria Pavlik from Minnesota (a member of the Alliance). More shows along these lines are in development.

The Bloomington exhibition, Fresh Air, is down now, but the work is largely represented in the current Northern Prints show now on view in Duluth, commemorating the tenth year of the Alliance. It’s well worth your visit.

About the author: Ann Klefstad is an artist and writer living in Duluth.

Related exhibition details:

10: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Northern Printmakers Alliance will be on view at Northern Prints Gallery through October 10. The gallery is at 318 North 14th Avenue East in Duluth. You can visit it online at Northern Prints Gallery.