A career in art didn’t seem much like an option to Shannon Bourne until after she hit 40. A marine biology major from UNCW (who first got her training at Cape Fear Technical College, now known as Cape Fear Community College in the ‘80s), she was a mother and wife, who had found work in the film industry in her early college years.
“After graduation, I ended up in restaurant work while considering what to do next,” she remembers. “A chance encounter at the restaurant landed me a production assistant job on a film in Wilmington.”
After the Nick Nolte and Debra Winger film, “Everybody Wins,” wrapped, she continued working in art departments on film sets until her first child was born. The long hours and days of the industry had her return to UNCW to secure an undergraduate degree in studio art. She went on to attend the Academy of Art in San Francisco for her MFA in printmaking and illustration. It wasn’t until she came back to Wilmington in 2010 she found herself in the throes of film work again, with an old colleague/art director friend, Bill Davis.
“Art department work is a passion,” Bourne tells, “and at that point I really thought I would never be able to do it again after being gone for so long. In between film projects, I began to teach part time at UNCW.”
Today she continues juggling career and family life; she now teaches full time at UNCW. Film and TV shows take up moonlighting gigs in graphic design and prop-making. She found most enjoyment recently while doing work on the locally filmed FOX series, “Sleepy Hollow.”
“The shift between modern day and late 1700s offered me a chance to create everything from colonial maps, to old books, to murals, to police paperwork,” she tells. “Most recently, I created props and paperwork for the Netflix series, ‘Mindhunter.’ The show takes place during the 1970s, and many of the practical items that have print on them used by the actors had to be recreated from scratch. I think the pizza box featured in the series and the scary drawings burned in the last episode were some of my favorite things I got to make.”
UNCW also is taking note of Bourne’s collection of art offscreen, through a ceramics and printmaking show, on display at the Cultural Arts Building on UNCW’s campus through February 23. A multitude of work includes woodcut, photolithography on clay, monotype on clay, monotype on paper, etching, and book-making.
“Printmaking is my first love as an art medium but ceramics has slowly been moving into my studio work, not as a stand-alone necessarily, but as a way to take printmaking into a new direction,” Bourne tells. “Both printmaking and ceramics are so process-heavy and very technical, which I think appeal to the science elements I love.”
The unknown of the outcome—the surprise factors, so to speak—keep Bourne happily experimenting and surreptitiously pushing boundaries. That which normally she prints on paper, she will attempt on clay.
“The idea of taking printmaking and removing it from a solely 2D, behind a frame style of art and pushing into the 3D world through the inclusion of clay, appeals to me,” she tells. “A flat print suddenly becomes tactile and something a person can handle.”
While she uses her scientific background in the process of art-making, the themes for which she creates vary. She’s found herself compelled most by American stories. A raku-fired ceramic house came from the local lore of the Wilmington 1898 Riots. Research on its historical accuracy moved her.
“The houses are created using a ceramic firing technique that creates a smoky, burned, and cracked surface I felt reflected the subject matter,” she tells. “Imagery related to the events was then transferred to the surfaces using a modified printmaking technique. . . . As many people before me have noted, I was raised in the region and attended public school in towns that were very close to Wilmington. The fact the entire piece of history is now referred to as the ‘1898 Massacre’ was just ‘erased’ from school curriculum shocked me. No one talked about these events and the horrific monstrosities that took place in Wilmington. As an artist and person concerned about revisionist history, I felt compelled to create something to honor and recognize the events. We can’t forget these parts of history, they make us who we are, good or bad.”
She has kept close ideas of how our country is changing, injustices many face, and began questioning what quantifies and qualifies the question: Who decides what makes someone American? She found interest in people our society considers iconoclasts and whether they deserve it. She also brings environmental issues to the forefront and how Americans impact such, not to mention observations of people she has collected during her travels.
“Even [ones who] may not feel their voices are heard,” Bourne clarifies. “There are many different realities right now of what it means to be a citizen of this country depending on your race, sexual orientation, financial situation, etc. The stories are endless.”
Her output seems to see no bounds. Working in the film industry has allowed her the privilege of churning out work at a fast pace, sometimes without having the luxury of time to process true satisfaction of the end result. “Often, I am glad for the time constraints I face—it helps me wrap things up and move on,” she admits. “As I’ve gotten older, hanging on to a piece that might not be working becomes less of an issue and accepting that failure can be a great learning tool. . . . Everything I’ve learned, no matter how obscure seeming at the time, has become useful.”
It’s also kept her focused on her goals. Aside from teaching graphic design, ceramics and foundation classes this spring semester at UNCW, she’s also focused on helping the UNCW Studio Art Department grow, particularly in printmaking. With the addition of the new digital design major and minor, it will allow printmaking and ceramics a chance to move into the digital realm of interest in our technological age. In one of her classes, she’s doing a cross-campus project to institute UNCW “Zine-Fest.”
“The library is starting a ‘Zine’ collection and our students will be some of the first to have their work catalogued into this new collection,” she tells. “In an age of digital overload, it’s great to get back to making art and telling stories in a way that is very hands-on, easy-to-do, and can be accessible by all.”
As well she’s working on the 2019 Big Steamroller Woodblock series, originally founded by Jennifer Page, who owns and operates Cape Fear Press in Carolina Beach. UNCW is the sponsor and hosts it, with Page returning as an honorary founder who drives the paving roller.
“We absolutely couldn’t do it without her,” Bourne tells. “The name of the event has shifted a few times but as of last year it will be officially called ‘UNCW Print Fest.’ We plan to hold the event on an every-other-year basis in April. It will be held out front of the Cultural Arts Building on campus.
Over the past few years, many schools from across NC have participated, as well as individual practicing artists. We have decided to have the theme of each Print Fest revolve around a local nonprofit. It is our hope to give exposure to the nonprofit, bring the Wilmington community on campus, and share our love of printmaking through the event. The next UNCW Print Fest will be held in 2019 and it will be bigger and better than ever.”
First, though, folks can see Bourne’s work on display at the opening reception of “American Stories” on January 11, 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m., in the Cultural Arts Building on UNCW’s campus.