Correction: Brian Fisher is the co-curator of the show.
When island artist Valerie Wilson moved from Portland to Vashon in 1992, her car looked like a spaceship sporting a large metal wheel — a key piece of her handcrafted printing press — strapped to the roof. It took her two trips, but soon she had all the parts of her press ready to assemble. Then she had to find a spot for it to land.
But land it did in a potting shed at the home of Mike Richards and Rita Brogan on Quartermaster Drive, and Quartermaster Press Studio was born. A quarter century later, the artist collective will be honored in “The Quartermaster Press Studio 25th Anniversary Retrospective,” which will open at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 6, at Vashon Center for the Arts and run through April and May.
Wilson recalled how “thrilled” she felt to run the press, — which sits on a stand, measures 26 by 48 inches and was hand built by Portland machinist Ray Trayle — and to start the collective with three other initial members and fellow printmakers Jil Stenn, Bonnie Wilkens and Ilse Reinmitz.
Over the next 15 years, membership waxed and then waned. Being next to a private house, the studio, while charming, was not ideal for public traffic. Six years ago, Quartermaster Press moved into a larger space, known as the Cookhouse, at the Beall Greenhouse.
“We had to put in the water for sinks, but it was centrally located, and we could be on the Island Studio Tour,” Wilson said. “Then we thought, ‘Do we even have money to move?’”
In what she felt was a bold act, Wilson and studio members asked their supporters to help fund the move.
“We ended up with $3,000, and we are still so grateful to all who gave us support,” she said. “It gave us good financial footing, and it has stayed that way. Since that move, we’ve had a waiting list for members.”
Island artist, printmaker and the show’s co-curator Brian Fisher said that when he first started there were only about five or six members.
“Now, it is a place where people who are interested in printing come together as well as others who come to the process from other ways of making art,” he said.
Patricia Churchill, co-curator with Fisher, remarked that the power of the etching press is its social aspect to draw people together. In an email she wrote: “The collaboration, the camaraderie, the relief from the isolation of the studio. That is the glue. And on top of that, there is the magic of an indirect process. Printing is full of surprises, resists control and offers endless experimentation.”
The show is designed to help participants understand the printing process. It will be both an exhibition of more than 75 prints by 31 studio members and also an educational experience with four talks and three hands-on printing demonstrations for monotype, collagraphy and copper plate etching.
Members will be present at the First Friday opening on April 6, and again on May 4. Wilson will give an artist talk on “QMP History and Print Techniques” at 5:30 p.m. April 6; Fisher will give a talk and demonstration on collagraphy on a portable, smaller press at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and will moderate a talk called “Collectors’ Conversation” at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28; Suzanne Moore will give an artist talk on “Tradition and Transformation in Printmaking” at 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, followed by an etching demonstration by Deborah Taylor; and Wilson will close the series with a monotype demonstration at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19.
Wilson said she is excited to have the “community more aware of what we are all about” and plans to conduct two or three class sessions after the exhibit for those interested in learning more about printmaking.