Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Tandem

I live in Northeastern Wisconsin, in the southern Fox River valley.  It's a great place to live - close to everything, relatively safe, all four seasons represented - and LOTS of printmakers.  :)

If you're into the history of printmaking, Wisconsin is a fantastic place to start!  The University of Wisconsin has one of the best printmaking facilities in the nation, which began shortly after WWII (1946).  At that point, hardly anyone was making prints.  But it only took one professor, Alfred Sessler, to change all that.  Since then, the printmaking department at the "UW" reads like a "who's who" of notable printmakers: Warrington Colescott, William Weege and Raymond Gloeckler are just a few of the names you'll hear over and over.

But I didn't know any of this when, on a cold March day last year, my sister Jen and I visited the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison.

We were on one of our "sister days", where we take a whole day and explore one part of the city.  We always have a GREAT time, and Jen always picks such neat places to visit!  When we visit Madison, we usually take just one neighborhood - Atwood Avenue, Williamson ("Willy") Street, Monroe Street - but on this day, we began on the UW campus (of which the Chazen is a part) for the  incredible "1934: A New Deal for Artists" exhibit.  (Side note: if you're in Madison and would like to visit the Chazen, you can thank some very generous donors for making this amazing art museum FREE to the public!)

That particular exhibit was everything I hoped it would be, but then we ventured into other areas of the museum.  One part of the museum showcased prints by Judy Pfaff.  I was instantly mesmerized!!!  I read the tag to these prints and it happened to say "Courtesy of Tandem Press".  At this point, I assumed that Tandem was a publishing house, and I mentioned to Jen, "I have to find the book that was published by this "Tandem!"

But she said to me, "I think Tandem is an actual working press. In fact, I think I've been there!  Should we go and check it out?"

So, after a lovely break at this awesome coffee shop, Indie Coffee, we made the 3-mile drive to an unassuming warehouse.  When we walked in, a lovely woman with a delightful Irish brogue came up to us and asked if we'd ever been here before.  Jen said she had, but that this was my first time.  I thought that would be the end of it, and that she'd let us on our merry way, but she asked if we'd like a tour.  WOULD WE?!  But being the polite, unimposing women we are, we asked many times first if it would really be okay, since we could clearly see that they were hard at work.

So this lovely lady says, "NONSENSE! That's why we're here!"

Okay!!  So she calls over to one of the workers and says, "These ladies would like a tour."  To which he replies, "Of course!  Come on in!"

At this point, I think Jen and I were both wondering what was going on - I mean, everyone's so nice!  How could they not be totally annoyed that these two people, who just wandered in off the street, are ruining their concentration and work flow?  Well, if they were annoyed, they sure didn't show it!!  The gentleman introduced himself as Andy Rubin, one of the master printmakers at Tandem, and that he'd been there essentially since it opened.  He'd come from L.A., at a place called Gemini Press.  (It's a good thing that I didn't know about any of these people when we were at Tandem last March, because I would've been star-struck.  I've come to learn since that these folks are essentially rock stars of the print world.)

So we got went on the tour, which was EXHILARATING.  It was, for me, a seminal experience.  And I knew it, even then.

We were just about to leave, when I finally saw it - Judy Pfaff's "Year of the Dog #8".  How I could've missed it before, I have NO idea - it's roughly 3 feet by 8 feet!!  Mr. Rubin explained to us that she created this work using woodcuts and stencils.  At this point I had NO idea how any of that would be created, but I knew that I wanted to learn more about how to do it.  I don't think any one piece has ever captured my imagination like this piece had.  And to think that she came all the way from her studio out east JUST to do prints at Tandem, in little old Madison, Wisconsin?  It started to dawn on me that Tandem was Mecca for well-known artists wanting to learn printmaking.

We left when the tour was over, and that nice lady with the Irish accent asked it we'd like to be on the mailing list.  YES!!  So we signed up and left.  As we were getting into the car, the woman called out to us:  "Oh!  I forgot to give you a brochure of our upcoming print sale!"  Which I thought was way over and above what she had to do, considering I thought she was an administrative assistant.

When we were at the Chazen, I had picked up a book called "Tandem Press:  25 Years of Printmaking" because we were headed there and it looked interesting.  When I came home and began reading it, my stomach sank - that lovely Irish lady who was so kind and thoughtful turned out to be none other than Paula McCarthy Panczenko, Executive Director of Tandem.  Talk about a shock!!  She was unlike any other executive director of a non-profit I'd ever met.  Even more coincidental - her husband, Russell Panczenko, is the Director of the Chazen.  I would find out later that he's on the board of the MOWA, where I am a docent. SMALL world!  :D

Ms. Panczenko herself has been quoted as saying that Tandem Press is her obsession and that "people see things here that change their lives." (Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance, p. 194.)  This is true for me.  That one "sister day" last March set in motion a change in my own artwork and eventually, a change in medium.  I continue to be inspired by that trip, and I'm SO glad the Chazen and Tandem exist!

P.S.  I HIGHLY recommend the aforementioned Progressive Printmakers book, even if you don't live in Wisconsin, or even the U.S.!  It's a great resource for printmaking history.  :D


  1. What a lovely day and yes, life changing experience! Thank GOD for art! Mardi

    1. Thanks, Mardi, and I wholeheartedly agree! :D