My Most Memorable Day of Teaching and Art Creation
“No WAY!” is literally what I said when a participant from my Saturday professional development workshop, Rosie Mitchell, asked me if I would run a steamroller printmaking day at her elementary school in South Salt Lake City. For those of you who have never heard of “steamroller printmaking,” this is a technique for making very large woodcut prints using a steamroller as the printing press. More on that in a bit…
It is not that I am unkind; it’s just that it is so much work to move a printmaking studio off site. I know, I have done it before for the Utah Arts Festival when I was invited to demonstrate steamroller printmaker along with my two fellow Saltgrass Printmakers co-owners and founders - my husband, Erik Brunvand, and our business partner Stefanie Dykes. That’s when Rosie first participated in the steamrolling event. Later she joined us at our non-profit print studio, Saltgrass Printmakers (facebook page here) and steamrolled some more works of art. She knew how much fun it was and wanted to share it with her elementary school kids.
But I guess I am really just a softie. It was only a day or two later when I contacted Rosie and said, “Okay. Let’s do this crazy thing!” After all, even though I thought I was far too busy to do another event, who could be busier and more hardworking than an elementary educator? Soon many hours of planning, organizing, drawing, designing, and wood-cutting ensued.
The project that I had been hesitant to do turned out to be a fabulous community effort. I had been working with Rosie and many other wonderful elementary educators for several years through a program I run on Saturdays at the University of Utah, funded by the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Legacy foundation. I also teach art education courses for our University of Utah art majors going into secondary education as well as for many of the elementary education majors in the Department of Education.
I mention these many entities because our volunteers were based from these groups. We included many U of U students from my courses, ALL the students at Wilson Elementary, EVERY classroom teacher at Wilson Elementary, the principal, the local Scout troop (who worked towards eagle Scout status by doing much of the wood carving with routers), AND a donated steamroller we named “Squishy.” (Actually this equipment is called a “dual-drum ride-on roller” - but hey, “steamroller” sounds cooler, just ask James Taylor). Squishy came with a donated steamroller driver named Justin. Rosie Mitchell, my husband Erik, and I rounded out the organizing crew. Six and a half hours of constant inking, printing and steamrolling later we created over 100 large 4x5ft woodcut prints from 33 different classrooms.
Each Wilson Elementary School class created drawings inspired by their classroom curriculum. They received basic instruction about reversing the text and images, but the ideas stemmed entirely from the students. From those ideas and drawings, Rosie created large-scale images and handed those drawings off to the Scout troop. Armed with large 4x5ft wooden panels (donated by Home Depot) the Scouts, along with their leader, cut out every one of the students’ ideas and images with routers and brought the boards back to the elementary school for our big day. Once the boards were ready, all supplies were collected, and volunteers were in place, we were ready to go!
In conjunction with the Wilson Elementary “Arts on Main” event we “performed” with Squishy, making these large-scale prints with a steamroller from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. What could possibly be cuter that a bunch of kids screaming “SQUISHY! SQUISHY!” and raucously cheering on their teachers to try driving the streamroller. Add to that, the sound of kids squealing with delight when they saw their beautiful prints peeled off the matrix, and you have a recipe for a delightful day of art-making and community-building.
In order to make this many large prints in one day the process must be streamlined. University students mixed up the inks, inked up the boards, and placed the boards on the ground. Next we carefully placed Japanese fiber paper on top of the inked surface of the board (called the MATRIX). The next step is to cover the paper with thin cardboard, then a sheet of carpet padding. Once that “sandwich” is in place it’s time to roll over it with our “Mobile Printing Press”. The steamroller (weighing nearly 2 tons) slowly rolls over the sandwich of board, paper and padding, pressing the paper down onto the ink surface and transferring the image (in reverse) onto the fiber paper. The last step is to uncover the matrix. The paper is peeled off last, revealing the work of art.
I was a teacher in public schools for the first 13 years of my teaching career and have been at the University of Utah for the following 10 years. I have enjoyed almost (!) every day of these many years of teaching. Steamroller printmaking at Wilson Elementary School turned out to be my most memorable day of teaching and art creation. I am thankful I changed my mind so quickly and said, “Yes, let’s make some big prints with your entire school!”