Chance events underlie new exhibit ‘Playing with Print’

William Witwer

Growing up surrounded by art and artists, it took junior Siri Smith a while to appreciate art, especially because her mother, Master Printer Marcia Bartholme, was very protective of it. A large collection of Bartholme’s work is now on display in the Sheehan Gallery, much of it coming from the walls of Smith’s home.

“My oldest memory of my mom’s studio is from when I snipped off part of my bottom lip with a pair of pliers,” said Smith in an e-mail. “We used to live right outside New York City for seven years and she would make a point of dragging me to art museums on the weekends and I really resented her for it. In high school, she used to threaten me not to throw parties because she didn’t want anything to happen to the art on the walls of our house.”

On Friday, March 4, Bartholme’s extensive collection of prints officially went on display in the Sheehan Gallery, and a fairly large crowd of well-scarved art students and enthusiasts gathered to hear her speak. All of the prints are collaborations with well-known artists like John Cage, Francesco Clemente and Fay Jones. Smith also knows many anecdotes about her mother’s work with these artists who, according to her, see the world very differently from everyone else.

“[Smith] grew up with this collection in her house; when I walked into her house that series of five was hanging on their stairwell,” said Kynde Kiefel, exhibitions and collections manager, gesturing to a series of John Cage prints. “She has a beautiful familiarity with it; it’s almost like part of her family too.”

Dawn Forbes, the director of the Sheehan Gallery, mentioned in her speech at the gallery opening that “for Siri, seeing these prints is probably a weird form of homecoming.”

Indeed, Smith echoed such sentiment herself, explaining that the first week it went up she was stressed out, and that she would go into the gallery to calm herself down. But it wasn’t always that way; Smith remembers the times when aspects of her mother’s work were inaccessible to her.

“A lot of the art is pretty abstract, so understanding why it was valuable or why my mom was so fond of it was never really clear to me until I was older,” said Smith. “I’ve slowly become more and more interested in the arts from classes I’ve taken at Whitman and from working for an art consultant. It has given me a much better perspective on what my mom has accomplished.”

And Bartholme has accomplished a lot. The title of Master Printer indicates that she has a full grasp of the demanding technicalities of printmaking. As art forms go, etching is one of the most challenging because of the lack of complete control over the final product. The artist spoke about how etching as a medium means accepting a certain level of chance and randomness in your work and using it to create a finished design : something many artists torture themselves over.

“There is a certain decision that the art makes for itself,” said Kiefel. “There is a certain amount of steering you can do, and a certain amount of study, but the fact that [the artists and printmakers] made it look this good in this realm of controlled chaos is really kind of miraculous.”

Frequently misrepresented as a reproduction of art, such as a band poster for example, printmaking actually creates original art that varies widely in its final product due to an individual printmaker’s artistic choices. Smith feels that this makes printmaking worthy of a place in Sheehan.

“I suggested my mom to Dawn because I think great art is something that should be shared,” said Smith. “I think that my mom has allowed me to appreciate not only art but people. As a printmaker, she invites artists to come work with her and it’s really remarkable to see the range of images produced from the same medium.”