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Marshall students create prints on a massive scale

November 6, 2018
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Instructror Sarah McDermott, left, and her student Savannah Hunter, of Nitro, get a first look at her print as the Marshall University School of Art and Design conducts the steamroller printing press project on Sunday in Huntington. Students carved 4-foot-by-4-foot cuts of wood to create large reliefs, which are then transferred to fabric using a pavement roller donated by West Virginia Paving Inc.

HUNTINGTON — Putting in hundreds of hours of planning and handiwork only to crush it with a steamroller sounds like a page out of Burning Man or some bizarre critique on the impermanence of art.

And while it was nerve-wracking for Marshall University’s student printmakers to watch their hand-etched wooden blocks go under the rollers, the final products were worth it.

The pavement between Gullickson Hall and Marshall’s INTO building was an open-air studio Sunday afternoon, and a 20-ton pavement — or steam — roller, provided by West Virginia Paving Inc., became an artist’s utensil.

The project allowed students to dramatically scale up their prints using 4-foot-by-4-foot woodblocks, which were coated in ink with a square fabric set on top. The blocks were wrapped in rubber stall mats before

the steamroller drove over, transferring the ink to the cloth.

It’s an ancient art form and relatively low-tech, but satisfying in way that still attracts students in 2018.

“Printma king is such a rewarding experience,” said Emily Thrain, a junior printmaking major from Buckhannon, West Virginia. “There’s so much work and time and physical effort along with the process that when it comes down to this, it’s all worth it.”

For this project, students were tasked with interviewing faculty from different university disciplines, particularly the College of Science, and create prints inspired by their work. Designs include motifs from nature, mythology and even pop culture.

“It’s all bigger, the purpose in it is a lot bigger, and why do prints have to be small?” Thrain said.

While it’s the printmaking on the largest scale the 13 participating students have tried, using a steamroller or some grand eclecticism isn’t unheard of in printmaking, said Jessica Sturgell, a sophomore printmaking major from Mingo County.

“You’d be surprised. People do crazy things with printmaking.”

And while printmaking happens every day at Marshall’s Visual Arts Studio or in the world at large through manufacturing and screen printing, Sunday’s session made a daylong event out of it.

“As artists, we all have this similar understanding of the art form itself, and in any case you want to gather with people who have similar interests as you,” Sturgell said.

“But this is even less about us hanging out together, because we do that every day in the studio, and the community being able to see what we do.”

The finished printed fabrics will be used for an upcoming exhibition that will run from Nov. 17 through 27 at the new Alias14W gallery, located at 720 14th St. West in Huntington’s Central City.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.

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