by Frank Lewis
It’d be hard to pin down exactly what’s behind the burgeoning print scene in Cleveland; On the one hand, the obsolescence of analog systems has taken old equipment like letterpress printing machines out of the commercial realm and created an after-market for art studios. But that’s certainly not all. At a time when art schools are modifying curriculum for the digital age because that’s how the kids get jobs, there’s a certain Luddite slacker appeal. But maybe the real motivation comes from the sensual appeal of printmaking: The carving of wood blocks, the scratching of metal plates, the literal burning of screens with light, the rolling and wiping of ink, and — for letter press machines — the hand-set, lead-heavy fact of moveable type.
Whatever you chalk it up to, there’s a little revolution going on in a couple of print shops around town. Zygote Press just keeps getting busier and busier, and now comes a group calling itself Artist Books Cleveland, which is a collective of people all about making books one by one, by hand, exploring their physical structure, and how that relates to meaning. And if that weren’t enough, there’s also the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory (opened in the fall of ’08), where they’ve got not only a whole bunch of print making going on in old factory space, but the actual manufacture of paper, one sheet at a time, by hand.
A couple of years ago Zygote Press director Liz Maugans traced the local appeal of labor-intensive, old-school print making to the city’s work ethic. Cleveland remains a manufacturing town, and there’s little more satisfying to us than the act of production.
And so as it re-opens for spring, the Morgan is producing in high gear. They’re getting queries about making paper on contract, out of such things as discharged soldiers’ uniforms. The former factory space has no less than three separate shows going on in its galleries this week (and ironically, due to the constraints of print media, we’ll only able to tell you much about one of them in Scene’s April 1 print edition). Besides Hui Chu Ying’s editioned, traveling show Monumental Ideas in Miniature Books, Artist Books Cleveland has its Salon Show, which will exhibit book structures by its 60 members, showing off the broad range of interests in the local book-making community. The third show is Trifold: Book, Print, Pulp, curated by Maugans. “This show started with the idea of bringing three groups together [Zygote, the Morgan, and ABC],” she says. “It’s an idea to publicly launch the synergy of the three groups.” Zygote has an active off-site exhibit initiative, the purpose being to show artists’ work in new venues, and therefore to open up to new audiences. Maugans put out the call and got back 40 pieces from 20 artists covering a broad range of traditional printmaking techniques.
All three shows open with a free reception from 6-8 p.m. Friday, April 3 at the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory, 1754 E. 47th St., 216-361-9255. — Michael Gill