Melissa Merli: Printmaking resurrected
Ten years ago, after University of Illinois art Professor Dennis Rowan retired, the printmaking program at the university seemed to die out.
Most folks who follow the arts scene and the School of Art + Design, where Rowan had taught for 41 years, assumed that the presses and other equipment were gone.
But most of it remains in the basement of Noble Hall across from the Art + Design building, according to Alan Mette, associate director of the school.
And this fall, a printmaker joined the Art + Design faculty.
Assistant Professor Emmy Lingsheit is spending this semester working on putting in order the printmaking facility in Noble Hall, where the university has renovated the infrastructure, including fortifying the floor, removing some walls and improving ventilation.
"The university is making a serious effort in terms of renovating the space," Mette said Thursday.
In the spring, Lingsheit will start to teach courses: introduction to printmaking and relief printing. Besides setting up shop this semester, she's planning the curriculum and assembling supplies.
"We'll really be set up to do everything," she said.
That includes etching, screen printing, lithography and monoprints.
The School of Art + Design won't, at least for the foreseeable future, grant degrees in printmaking. It never was a degree-granting program, Mette said.
To grant degrees in a new subject area, the UI would first need the approval of the state Board of Higher Education. And gaining that is not easy, he said.
"At this point, we'll build the classes and go from there," he said.
Around the same time Rowan retired — he continues to live in this area and make art — UI studio glass Professor William Carlson left to chair the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Miami (Florida).
A lot of people here grumbled about the disappearance of the printmaking and glass programs at Illinois. The university kept some of the glass-making equipment but does not plan to bring that program back, Mette said.
He said by the time Rowan retired and Carlson left, there had been low student demand in those areas. Also, Illinois State and Southern Illinois universities have strong studio-glass programs, so the UI doesn't want to duplicate their offerings, Mette said.
I first met Lingscheit — she's 32 but looks younger — at the opening earlier this month of the Art + Design Faculty Exhibition at Krannert Art Museum. The show remains there through Jan. 5, so you have a while to see it.
She contributed three pieces: "Mountain Lion Deconstruction" and "Pronghorn Deconstruction" are drawings, and "Crow Deconstruction" is lithography with hand coloring. All three show that she's quite skilled.
Lingsheit and art education Assistant Professor Jorge Lucero discussed their work during a gallery talk Thursday. Lingsheit said she's long been fascinated by animals; her work centers around the relationships between humans and nature. The mountain lion, antelope and crows in her print and drawings at first appear dismembered, as one viewer said later to me. But instead they have been deconstructed to appear as pieces of model kits for building animals.
Lingsheit also was thinking about the control we humans try to exert over animals, the ways we experience animals, our fear of and revulsion as well as our empathy toward animals.
In her talk, she also referred to authors and philosophers she had read, among them Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who famously regarded animals as machines, devoid of emotions.
She also discussed "rewilding," the process of reinstating species in various environments, often to protect and restore the areas.
Lingsheit was born and raised in South Dakota and has a bachelor's of fine arts degree in painting from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
She studied art for a semester in the Czech Republic and later worked at the Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis as a recipient of the Jerome Emerging Printmakers Residency in 2006 and then as a member of the Highpoint Print Cooperative.
As a graduate teaching associate at the University of Tennessee, she taught printmaking and art foundations courses and traveled to Poland for a printmaking residency. She graduated with her MFA in printmaking in 2012.
RIP, Bob Smith
I always enjoyed chatting with Bob Smith whenever I saw him at Krannert Art Museum or elsewhere in town. He was so kind to and supportive of me and my work — and definitely the arts in general.
I was sad to read on Wednesday that Mr. Smith died last month at age 85. A memorial service for him will take place at 2:30 p.m. today at Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C.
Mr. Smith was primarily a pianist, and I was impressed while reading of his accomplishments in music and education, including at Illinois, where he was on the music faculty and retired in 1983 as a full professor.
He was quite active in recent decades at Krannert Art Museum, where he was the chairman of the research committee for many years.
In that role, he helped develop historical information about the museum collection and to develop the collection catalog.
In 2011, the museum council, a group of volunteers who work to benefit the museum, honored him as the "Unsung Hero of the Year."
Bob LaFrance, curator of pre-modern art at Krannert, called Mr. Smith a dedicated and extremely active docent.
"He was committed to this work," LaFrance said via email. "For example, Bob and his friend James Sinclair traveled to England to research (Krannert's) Gainsborough portrait of Mrs. Henry Fane, and they even met descendants of the Fane family."
The curator and volunteer became friends during the editing of "Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works," published in 2008. Mr. Smith authored or co-authored more than a dozen entries in that catalog; LaFrance called him a sharp and economical writer.
"He was also an important donor to the museum, and I processed his large gifts of works of art and talked to him about the importance of art conservation, which can be underfunded at many museums," LaFrance said.
Mr. Smith left the museum a permanent legacy: The Travis B. Poole and Robert B. Smith Conservation and Preservation Fund, named in part after Mr. Smith's former partner.
It was typical of him to put his own name second, LaFrance said.
"But what I remember most is that Bob visited me at the museum nearly every Tuesday, rain or shine, and we always met for our birthday lunches," the curator said. "Our conversations covered a wonderful range of topics, and Bob often brought in articles to discuss or we would talk about trips to Europe.
"Several times, he opened a bag and produced a work of art like a rabbit from a hat. That object then became the subject of a full-blown scholarly investigation. He was fiercely independent, went to the gym nearly every weekday and kept an active schedule almost to the end."
Mr. Smith's obituary is at http://bit.ly/16yMDrz.