Illustration by Abigail Santner

Keep a look out this week for the latest issue of The Blue & White. You can also read it on Bwog! Enjoy a second Blue Note about printmaking at Columbia and soon-to-come features, including an interview with Edwidge Danticat and an investigation into Columbia’s role in world government.

The Internet’s do-it-yourself ethos grants expertise (or a passable imitation) to anyone willing to Google it. As a result, it’s tough to find an officially ordained “master” of most things. In a world of eHow and self-taught amateurs, there is something quaint about the term ‘Master Printer.’ It is the name given to the artisan in charge of the printmaking shop at Columbia’s LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, located in Dodge Hall. The spacious, well-lit facilities have all the trappings of a professional shop, from traditional relief and intaglio printing to digital imaging. It is both glitzy downtown gallery and musty seminar room, serving students, professors, and big-deal New York artists alike.

Chiefly, though, the Center is a space for artistic exploration. The four artists-in-residence annually given free reign over its resources do not usually have printing experience. “Typically the artists aren’t printmakers themselves so they tend not to have the knowledge and the tools to create prints,” explains Kari Higdem, CC’10, the current assistant to Tomas Vu-Daniel, the artistic director of the Center. Here the Master Printer steps in, advising, assisting, and in some cases producing the final print with the artist. Such an expert, who has experience with all types of machinery and all the different types of printing, “is very rare, especially one that wants to work in an academic institution,” notes Higdem. Former Master Printer Chris Creyts left the Neiman Center on good terms earlier this year, but he has been impossible to replace so far.

Although filling Creyts’ shoes will be difficult, filling the artist residencies at the shop never is. The opportunity for unlimited creative freedom is preferable to contracts with private printshops, which exert more control over the sales of work created than Columbia does. Access to Columbia’s other facilities, too, can be an unparalleled offer. During her time here, for example, American sculptor and printmaker Kiki Smith borrowed the astronomy department’s telescope to take pictures of the moon. Other artists simply relish the chance to work. The South African artist William Kentridge — the subject of a major retrospective at MoMA last year — became a resident in 2003. He was assigned a studio in Watson, the little-known hall on 115th Street that houses Columbia’s studio spaces, and worked side by side with undergraduate artists and MFA students for almost a year.
When it comes to the fruits of their labor, Columbia gives Neiman Center artists a deal that benefits both parties. The artists keep half the editions they produce in the shop, while Columbia keeps the other half for sale to galleries and private collectors. Higdem sees this equal deal as the key to the innovative projects that come out of the studio, “at other studios they’re helping them print but they also want them to sell… Because [the Neiman Center] is run by artists, we’re open to trying everything and new things, and we’re not as concerned with selling.” This creative license makes for adventurous and eclec- tic undertakings that demand attention in the world of art, humble though they may appear hanging small gallery across from the Dodge branch of Blue Java.

—Claire Sabel