Steamroll the Presses

May 15 • Art, ARTSY SMARTSYNo Comments on Steamroll the Presses

Big Print Block Party
Sat., 5/19, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cape Fear Boulevard, near boardwalk
Carolina Beach • FREE

STEAMROLLING: “Carolina Bays, An Unsolved Mystery of Cosmic Proportion” by Jennifer Page, printed at one of the previous events.

The past will meet at the present, as 11 East Coast artists will tackle the oldest form of printmaking on Carolina Beach at the Big Print Block Party Art Festival. Presented by Cape Fear Press and the Carolina Beach Arts and Activities Committee, the Big Print Block Party—back for its third year—celebrates the classic and intricate process of woodcut printmaking.

“Woodcut relief printing is the oldest form of printing with ink,” says Jennifer Page, event founder and owner of Cape Fear Press. “The process dates back to about 200 A.D. in China with decorative fabric printing. Printmaking as an art medium is unique in that each print is an original even though it exists as multiples—it is not a reproduction of anything else.”

A group of 11 artists—some local, others from as far away as Florida and New York—are participating this year, with three original prints each. These artists have spent months of intricate sketching and carving wood blocks, four feet tall and eight feet wide, tailoring them specifically for the event. Each cut has to be precise, as any imperfection will permanently mar its final product once it is printed.

After months of meticulous planning and sore wrists, the group of artists will finally be able to experience the payoff of their arduous work when a four-ton steamroller will pass over their blocks, creating mirror-imaged prints of their carvings. According to Page— although steamrolling is not the conventional method of woodcut printing—it was the idea responsible for sparking the first Big Print Block Party back in 2009.

“I had always wanted to print a giant etching with a steamroller, but I realized the pressure needed to print etchings is simply not adequate with a paving roller,” Page says. “Years later I heard that a few people were having success printing large woodcut relief prints with a steamroller. [If] this type of printing is inherently suited for a group of artists, it then seemed obvious that it would be a good public art event as well.”

While planning the first Big Print Block Party, Page enlisted advice from Dennis McNett, a Brooklyn-based woodcut artist who does this type of event annually with his students at Pratt Institute.

“I talked about the idea with local photographer Matt Dols of [his collective effort website] Creative Wilmington, and he later told me about a couple of artists who seemed interested in participating [and] gave me a few tips on organizing a public art event,” Page says. “I live in Carolina Beach, so I decided it would be nice to keep it close to home and [hold the festival] in center of town on the east block of Cape Fear Boulevard.”

Shannon Bourne, one of this year’s contributing artists, says the festival provides the Cape Fear community a chance to observe and appreciate an art form of which many aren’t even aware. “I think a lot of people don’t realize what a huge physical undertaking [woodcutting] is and how much planning is involved,” Bourne says. “It’s fun and different to see art being created on such a large scale, and to see an artist doing work outside the studio.”

The unique process Bourne is referring to goes like this: once the artists bring their finished woodcuts to the festival, rubber rollers are then used to slowly build up an even layer of black ink on the uncut portions. Once the blocks are inked, a layer of muslin (organic, cotton-hemp fabric) is placed on top of the inked block, and hand-rubbed with a wooden spoon or baren. This is where the steamroller comes in: It will make four passes over the blocks; its pressure transfers the ink to the fabric. The muslin is then peeled away to reveal the finished product: a stark black-and-white-mirrored image of the original woodcut, the ink beautifully highlighting each cut and carving from the painstaking process its artist endured.

Other local artists and crafters will be displaying and selling art throughout the day as well, and there will also be booths and activities for children. The event is free and open to the public.

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