Tent City Press: Alaska’s printmakers have an affordable home for their craft at ACW
In today’s world of infinitely reproduced images and text, it can be hard to imagine a world where exact replication was an impossibility. Prior to the 15th century, images and the written word were almost exclusive to royal palaces and churches, where they remained largely inaccessible. Luckily for modern-man, German printer Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439. The advent of Gutenberg’s press and movable type unlocked the potential for hundreds of essentially identical images to be produced from a single matrix of carved wood or metal. The result, a rapid spread of knowledge throughout Europe that influenced the Renaissance.
Almost 600 years later, Anchorage’s contemporary printmakers may not have their sights set on influencing a world-wide social movement, but they are poised to reinvigorate Alaskans’ interest in the art form.
In August, a group of printmakers calling themselves “the collective,” formed Anchorage’s only community-based print studio. Situated on the first floor of the newly re-imagined Anchorage Community Works (ACW), Tent City Press made its public debut on Friday, September 1st with a First Friday exhibition.
As with any fledgling organization, Tent City Press wasn’t created without struggle.
“For me, it started two years ago, when I bought a lot of studio equipment from former UAA Art professor Garry Kaulitz,” explained ACW board member and collective printmaker Stephanie Novak. “Garry was selling his equipment in preparation to move to Ecuador and since I had been working in his print shop for a couple of years, I had an in to buy the equipment – I always had the intention of keeping a print shop going in Anchorage, I just needed to find a location.”
When Novak hooked up with the newly formed Anchorage Artist Co-op headed up by George Martinez in 2016, things began to take shape.
“Will Dowd, the former Executive Director of ACW came to the site of the Anchorage Artist Co-op to check out our set-up. I quickly told him about what we were up to and informed him about the equipment and my intentions,” said Novak. Since ACW was already doing some printmaking it seemed like transitioning to their space was a natural fit.”
Novak would spend the next year moving her 2,000-pound printing press to the new location, teaching workshops and organizing a committee of like-minded printmakers.
“After talking to some major players in the printmaking scene and hashing out some financials, we had an informal meeting to talk about what we would be important to us as artists. As a group, we formed an upper tier membership we call ‘the collective’ who act as board members,” Novak explained. “We had many meetings in the following months to hash out committees for things like membership, website stuff, subscription services, events, and "jobbers" – AKA commercial printing. Right now, I have my hands in 5 different committees so I am keeping really busy.”
Although Novak is doing a lot of the heavy lifting to get Tent City Press off the ground, she has a dedicated team of eight who are working to help ensure the organization’s success. One such member is UAA Art student Levi Werner who has built himself a reputation as one of the best young printmakers in the state despite only picking up printmaking two years ago.
“I started going to school with the intent of studying drawing and then I met Bryce Fredrick [a UAA printmaking student] and she brought me to the dark side,” laughed Werner. “The printmaking process just really pulled me in because it’s not necessarily about the final piece like other art forms. It really is about the planning procedure and to me that process differentiates printmaking from painting or digital arts. You spend all this time grueling over a drawing and you convert it to another medium or format whether it’s transferring it to a woodblock that you have to cut out to make a print or burning it on a silk screen to print on clothing. There are so many combinations of what you can do with the medium – it is limitless. The synthesis of medium is fascinating.”
Unfortunately, student printmakers like Werner and Fredrick are feeling the burn of recent budget cuts at UAA. With no printmaking classes being taught this fall, Tent City Press has become the only place in town for UAA printmakers to practice their craft. Sensing the need to provide students an affordable studio, ACW provided the artists a free membership for the summer and discounted membership through the fall.
“Currently there's a lack of venues, resources, agencies and opportunities for print medium artists in Anchorage and Alaska as a whole. For years, the only resource for equipment and instruction beyond personal studios has been at UAA, but even that is withering away with each passing semester” said Tent City Press member and commercial printmaker Joe Carr. “Unlike many mediums, printmakers need space and proper equipment. We're still building foundations but we have incredible talent, equipment and resources that put us on equal footing with legendary community print shops around the world. Ultimately, there will be opportunities, not just for print artists but all Alaskan creatives to do collaborations and editions with our group.”
While providing Anchorage printmakers a world-class studio has been a side benefit of Tent City Press, it is only one cog in a much larger picture.
“Forming Tent City Press was imperative,” explained ACW board member and collective printmaker Stephanie Novak. “ACW was in a financially unstable state, mostly from trying to do everything at once. But we all love it here so we knew we needed to find a way to financially contribute to the space. By forming another organization that could be financially responsible, we are helping to pay our share of the rent. We still have a lot of work to do but I think things like this are always a work in progress.”
Despite only opening their doors this month, Tent City Press is determined to make their presence known.
“In the near future, people can expect to see us everywhere,” said Novak. “We have a festival van now, so we'll be doing more of those next summer, and we also are planning an event in conjunction with ACW to rock out some steam roller prints next year. There is knowledge here for beginners, and we love to teach others so I am hoping we will start getting a lot of new people in here. One thing that bonds us together is that we are passionate about what we do. We started this thing to house and nurture a community and feed artistic souls.”
*Originally published by the Anchorage Press