Want a behind-the-scenes look at printmakers and others working their artistic magic? Then head to Florence, Massachusetts.
The brainchild of Zea Mays Printing founder and owner Liz Chalfin, the fair on September 26 will feature artists who belong to Chalfin’s printing space as well as artists from Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction, Vermont, Big Wheel Press in Easthampton, Massachusetts, Cherry Press in Rutland, Massachusetts, and Patrick’s Art House in Florence. In addition to fine art prints aplenty to view and buy, the fair will include a community event in which people can create their own print piece.
Chalfin started Zea Mays Printing in 2000 with an unusual focus at the time: a safer and nontoxic way of printmaking. “There was only one other studio in the country doing this 15 years ago,” she says.
Now Zea Mays Printing is an international center. “People come from all over the world and the country to study here,” she says. “We have workshops and a membership program so there is space for artists to work.”
Artist members, who total over 100, spend anywhere from a couple of days to weeks at the space, Chalfin says, noting there is a residency program as well. Chalfin continues to research new environmentally friendly and healthy developments in the field and then teaches those methods, including posting the research online where anyone can access it.
“It’s part of the way we get the word out that safe doesn’t mean inferior art,” she says.
Chalfin, who has been practicing her art — mostly etching — for 30 years, caught the eco-art bug early. “There are so many toxic chemicals, everything from nitric acid to the mineral spirits. And then all the solvents to process and clean plates.”
Trained in traditional (read toxic) printmaking, Chalfin decided to find a better solution after working in the basement of an old gym with no ventilation at all. “That motivated me to seek alternatives,” she says. She tracked down some different options being used by a few artists in Scotland and Canada. “That set me on this path, and I haven’t strayed for 15 years.”
“It kind of snowballed and has grown organically from a self-interest not to be around these toxic chemicals to not exposing these young artists to them,” she adds.
Zea Mays Printing reached another milestone this spring, when 11 of its artists participated for the first time in the Editions/Artists Book Fair in New York City. “It’s the international nexus of works on paper,” Chalfin says. “I always had this dream the studio would be represented there. It’s very competitive. I kind of feel like we’ve hit another plateau.”