Thursday, October 22, 2015

Prints from the Normal Editions Workshop

"If We can't Print it, You Don't Need it Done!". If you recognize that motto, then you know which of N.E.W.'s printmaking brat packs were hanging around in the printshop ambitiously learning how to make some amazing works of art. That was the motto emblazoned upon the dark red and white t-shirts of the elite group of students and faculty who worked at Normal Editions Workshop, at Illinois State University, from the mid to late 1980s. We proudly wore our shirts to printmaking conferences and workshops, and we followed our mentors James D. Butler, Harold Boyd, Ray George and Richard Finch happily like mice after a pied piper.

The mission: work with any and all visiting artists coming to ISU, get them to make a print, and learn from watching the Master R.D. Finch roll up a transparent yellow like no one else in the whole printmaking universe. The atmosphere working at N.E.W. was serious, electric and collegial. It was more than that. It was a printmaking inked up fingers group of people that loved the smell of ink and loved hearing the snap of the roller coming off the litho plate. We grained stones, prepped plates, went to the shop at all hours, including weekends, to complete an edition within the prescribed deadline. We shared our lives, our artistic aspirations and managed to make some mighty fine prints which helped to sustain the print shop operations, and earn some kudos from the university's administration.
The program, one of the pioneers in the country, quickly established itself as a major destination to go study printmaking and gain some practical training with which to take under one's arm as we moved out into the world of art-making. Good lessons were learned about patience, perseverance, and all with a healthy dose of experimentation thrown in for good measure. Some of the artists coming through the N.E.W. shop when I was there were Sidney Goodman, Roseanne Retz, Wayne Kimball, Stewart Hitch, Dike Blair, Claire Seidl, and editions by the ISU art faculty James D. Butler, Richard Finch, Harold Gregor and Ray George.
When Richard finch retied a couple of years ago, the N.E.W. helm was passed over to the capable hands of Veda Rives. She, and her print guru faculty and the ever-ambitious printmaking students at ISU are continuing the tradition, and are bringing in visiting artists with a 'taking no prisoners' attitude.

Another thing that helps sustain the N.E.W. printshop activities are its travelling shows, like the one currently showing at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. Forty-two original prints are located in the 2nd floor Atrium Gallery in Kindlon Hall through December 19. It is well worth the trip, so get your pilgrimage print hats on and come take a look at these beauties.
I don't know about you, but I am liking the idea of a printshop that has the courage to try several different media and styles, brings in a wide variety of artists so students get some real world experience working with ideas and personalities. N.E.W. is one of the best in the country, and if you were a printmaking student wanting to get a good dose of the print world, you would get a great experience coming to Normal, Illinois. (Really, no one really admits going to school in Normal. It just takes too to explain, so we say Bloomington, or just say its in McLean County.)
I credit the experience at N.E.W. as having honed my printmaking chops and it helped me pursue my career goals as a teacher and curator. Thanks are an inadequate expression for all the experience has done for me, and the print students coming out of this program.
The team at N.E.W. is a cut above, and in a couple of years, the school will have a new art facility, and hopefully an expanded N.E.W. printshop as well. Here's to all the great people at N.E.W. If you are interested on bringing one of their travelling print exhibitions to your venue, contact Veda Rives at

So remember, "If We can't Print it, You Don't Need it Done!"

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