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PEARS brings printmakers together

Kent Kapplinger, an NDSU associate professor of art and the PEARS director, creates a print in the print studio at Renaissance Hall in downtown Fargo. Kris Kerzman / The Arts Partnership

FARGO – It’s a quiet summer afternoon at North Dakota State University’s downtown Renaissance Hall, which is pretty much deserted thanks to the upcoming holiday weekend.

But there’s a hum of activity in the expansive third-floor print studio, where a handful of artists are engrossed in tasks like rolling out ink, drawing and cutting paper.

Most are there as part of the Printmaking Education and Research Studio, or PEARS, a program that provides learning opportunities for area students and educators through workshops and residencies from other visual artists.

Additionally, the program offers intensive workshops for the public and sells work through periodic sales and through its website.

The art of printmaking generally requires a lot of knowledge of technique, access to large equipment and a spirit of collaboration. When artists want to learn more about printmaking, it makes sense to do it in small groups, inviting master printmakers to work side by side with students.

That’s why NDSU associate professor and PEARS director Kent Kapplinger began the program in 1998, and he’s been thrilled with the talent that has been shared with the program, counting it as a reason for the program’s long-running success.

“We’ve had such phenomenal instructors, and we’ve been very fortunate to have notable artists come,” Kapplinger says. “The first artist we had come was Wayne Kimball (a professor of art at Brigham Young University), a master printer, and part of our success has been from having him as a listed artist.”

In the print studio, Fargo South High School art instructor Chelsea Odden is cutting out and arranging patterns. This is her third time going through the PEARS program, and she relished the opportunity to learn from this year’s visiting artist, Eva Isaksen, who combines traditional printmaking techniques with collage.

“It’s been a valuable experience for me. It’s energizing, and as a teacher I get to take that knowledge and those skills back to my students,” Odden says.

In addition to new skills, PEARS also provides a professional development boon for art instructors in the region. Rebecca Layman, who is busy rolling out black ink for a dark and detailed drawing she made, teaches art to high schoolers in Thief River Falls, Minn., and is going through the PEARS program for the first time as a way to earn credits toward a master’s degree.

“I’m trying to get graduate credits, and they’re hard to get in art, so I was super pleased to hear about the PEARS workshop,” Layman says.

Layman adds that she hasn’t done printmaking since pursuing her undergraduate degree and likes the way it allows her to integrate several of her interests at once.

“It combines the drawing aspect of my work, and it also reminds me, with the black-and-white stuff I’m doing, of photography,” she says.

On top of the access PEARS provides to skills and development, the program also helps with access to something far more immediate for many printmakers: the studio itself, which houses an impressive array of equipment that would be too cumbersome or costly to young artists.

Kapplinger says a basic printmaking setup could be placed in a home studio fairly inexpensively, but to really dig into the artform and practice can still be difficult. Eric Johnson, who has participated and worked alongside PEARS since its formation, says the program allowed him to really find his footing in the years after he graduated with an MFA from the University of North Dakota.

“Most people, after they graduate, don’t have access to printmaking equipment. It can be very expensive. After grad school when I didn’t have any access to anything, this was a way for me to keep producing in the medium I prefer,” Johnson says.

Built in to that access is the opportunity to collaborate with other artists, whether visiting or as part of the program, Kapplinger says. That collaborative spirit is a vital part of printmaking, as visual artists often work with master printers to bring an idea of theirs to life through a print.

Kapplinger cites an example of Johnson working with painter Ken Dalgarno through PEARS in the past. He thought a collaboration between the two would be a good match based on their stylistic similarities.

“I think the outcome from that was exquisite,” Kapplinger says. “It’s not just a copy of what the artist is thinking, but really is an interaction between a master printer and an artist.”

If you go

What: “Eva Isaksen: The Printed Collage”

What: Through July 25

Where: North Dakota State University’s Memorial Union Gallery