Over the past decade, we have worked with four of the quilters from Gee’s Bend, making numerous prints from quilt tops sewn for this purpose. Two of the quilters, Louisiana Bendolph and Loretta Bennett, along with curator Matt Arnett, joined me in Asheville, North Carolina, last fall to take part in a panel discussion about the translation of quilt to print.

During the panel, Lou and Loretta described their first quilts, made at about age 12. Loretta liked making quilts, and Louisiana did not. Both felt that quilt-making was a practical skill, passed down mother to daughter, whose purpose was to keep the family warm during the winter. Neither saw the practice as art, but as part of the work they had to do alongside farming and cooking.

ashville group shot
From Left to Right: Juile Caro, Matt Arnett, Louisiana Bendolph, Loretta Bennett, Marilyn Zapf & Pam Paulson
Ashville WWC gallery with LOU Loretta and Julie
Warren Wilson College Gallery

Warren Wilson College and the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design (CCCD) in Asheville cohosted the exhibition Gee’s Bend: From Quilts to Prints. The show was cocurated by Julie Caro, professor of art history at Warren Wilson, and Marilyn Zapf, assistant director of CCCD. Caro has designed two courses around the quilters of Gee’s Bend: “African American Art: Gee’s
Bend” and “Art History Practicum: Gee’s Bend.” Part of the curriculum included planning the exhibition and teasing out all the layers of transformation; quilts to print, quilter to artist, craft to art, unknown to known.

ashville CCCD wall shot MLB work
Prints and working proofs by Mary Lee Bendolph at the Center for Craft Creativity and Design, Asheville, NC

Warren Wilson began as a school for farm children whose parents could not easily afford a college education. It was designed to allow students to earn their tuition by working: facilities crews, farming crews, and cooking crews took part in the daily labor of running the campus while attending classes. Today, the students get to pay tuition and work; there are landscape crews, plumbing and electrical crews, weaving crews, cattle and pig crews, etc. The idea is to take responsibility and build community by learning the work required in any enterprise.

I joined one of Julie’s classes off-site at the Black Mountain College Museum, which happens to be across the street from the CCCD. We watched a short film from the 1980s about Black Mountain College. It existed from 1933 to 1957 and was a precursor to alternative institutions like Warren Wilson, which is just a short drive over the hill. The film consisted of interviews with a few principle figures from the college explaining its truly democratic ideals. The teachers were the owners and the student had a voice on the decision-making council. John Dewey’s principles of education were the mainstay of the interdisciplinary philosophy. Building community was paramount. Everyone toiled to run the campus, build buildings, and design curriculum. Work equalized the residents.

Josef and Anni Albers fled Nazi Germany directly to Black Mountain College and joined the faculty. The Albers’s Bauhaus ideas helped Black Mountain become an incubator for the American avant garde. Experimental art, music, dance, writing poetry, and science attracted faculty and students. Faculty included Buckminster Fuller, Robert Creeley, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Ruth Asawa, and Walter Gropius. Students included Robert Arneson, Allan Kaprow, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, Elaine de Kooning, and Cy Twombly.

ashville BMC bld with quilters
Former Black Mountain College campus

Later that day, Marilyn Zapf took us to see both campuses. Black Mountain is now a boy’s camp, but many buildings remain, modernist structures in sharp contrast to the nearby woodsy cabins.
The discipline of work, the autonomy of enterprise, and the responsibility of completion resonate in all of these places. In the Paulson Bott Press studio, Gee’s Bend, Warren Wilson, and Black Mountain, the practice of work for a common goal becomes a habit that frees us all to push further creatively.


The following day, we were interviewed on NPR by Frank Stasio. You can listen at

ashville public radio
Louisiana and Loretta at the Asheville public radio station

About Time

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal—and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
—Barack Obama

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Handsome Young Man, Woman), 2010
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Handsome Young Man, Woman), 2010

Wednesday’s ruling is a step forward for civil rights and civil liberties. The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, in contrast to Tuesday’s ruling, which took voting rights a step backward. We have come a long way on many fronts, but we still have a long way to go towards real equality.

Kerry James Marshall has focused his career on achieving real equality in the art world. “In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall” goes on display Friday at the National Gallery of Art‘s Tower Gallery and is Marshall’s first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C. This is the first time that the National Gallery has curated and exhibited the work of a living African-American artist.

In a conversation with NGA curator James Meyer, published recently in the Huffington Post, Marshall describes the importance of the show:

When you walk through the museum you don’t have a sense that the variety of different people who made up the nation as a whole have many any real meaningful contributions to the development of this country in the ways that people talk about its greatness. And I think to finally start to bring into a place like the National Gallery somebody who does work like mine that is not always celebratory of American ideals, that has an ambivalent and at times critical relationship to the overall story, to finally start to allow that work to be seen and those narratives to be articulated, starts to fulfill the promises that the idea of the country and the founding documents set out to guide us.

Today, 50 years after the civil rights movement’s heyday, we are at a tipping point. I hope today’s DOMA ruling and Marshall’s exhibition at the National Gallery of Art indicate that we are tipping in the right direction.

Kerry James Marshall, Bang, 1994
Kerry James Marshall, Bang, 1994

For an additional perspective on Marshall’s exhibition, please read Tyler Green’s article here:

On the Road to Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial: Lost Cows, 2001

Earlier this spring I took a trip with my daughter Isabelle and our friend Matt Arnett to visit Thornton Dial’s exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta and see his studio in Alabama. Dial’s incredible works were showcased in the exhibition Hard Truths/ The Art of Thornton Dial.The exhibition, which originated at the Indianapolis Museum of Art surveys twenty years of Dial’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  The work emphasizes the strength and compassion that Dial brings to each idea.  The survey brings up the difficult question of why Dial’s work has not been given the respect and notoriety it is due until now.  Race, education, and class have all played a factor in the denial of Dial’s admission into the contemporary art canon. The exhibition is a resplendent manifestation of a powerful discourse on the human condition from a vantage point rarely celebrated.

Thornton Dial: Ladies Will Stand by Their Tiger, 1991 and Isabelle at the High Museum with Dial drawing.

 A few miles beyond Birmingham in Bessemer, not far from the highway, a row of warehouses line a sleepy street.  Deep within the sprawling space of one of these warehouses, a corner has been turned into a large windowless room where Thornton Dial creates his work.

Looking into Dial’s studio, 2013.

The warehouse, built by Dial’s sons, is the home of their steel patio furniture business, Dial Metal  Patterns.  What was once a thriving industry has now slowed, devastated by the steep and prolonged rise of steel prices.  Dial and his sons have worked in the metal industry most of their lives.  Machines for bending, cutting, and painting , once used in the production of patio furniture now slumber.  Dial’s sons Richard and Donnie explained to me during my visit that not only had they built one of the metal bending machines after seeing one in another metal shop, but they had also constructed the entire warehouse itself, having had noexperience with constructing large buildings.  Creativity and ingenuity run in the Dial family.

Thornton Dial: Construction of the Victory, 1997 (Detail)

Thornton Dial was born in 1923 in Emelle, Alabama, a tiny town that has all but disappeared. As a very young child he had many responsibilities caring for farm animals and working the fields.  He watched as his uncle built sheds, barns, and small buildings. These structures, many built nearby by relatives and neighbors were designed carefully, composed from a wide range of materials colors, textures, and architectural styles intended to increase their visibility and to stylistically distinguish their makers.  Assemblages made from recycled materials and found objects dotted the landscape.  Communities created dialogues with yard art now recognized as part of the southern African American vernacular artistic tradition.  Dial absorbed this complex vocabulary and incorporated it into his own work.

Through making things Dial expresses his understanding of the world around him.  Dial’s painting and sculptures are narratives that discuss the complexities of his own life, nature,politics, race and history, constructed of found materials both natural and handmade.  Many of his assemblages have included bones, wire, dirt, flowers, clothing, utilizing reused and recycled materials, wood, wire, plastic, and metal scraps.  Surviving struggle and hardship Dial remains optimistic and the beauty of the natural world winds its way through his compositions.

Joe Minter’s yard, 2013.

The discipline of yard art is evident as you travel throughout Alabama.  Like Dial, Birmingham resident and Dial’s friend Joe Minter grew into the practice of making things to express his ideas.  Isabelle, Matt, and I paid an impromptu visit to Minter’s yard to view the extensive environment he has created over the years.  Minter’s house sits atop a hill abutting the local black cemetery, which serves as a thought-provoking backdrop to his visual, highly political commentary.  The enormous yard is home to a maze of interconnecting installations that touch on topics such as slavery, voter’s rights, the Gees Bend Ferry, the World Trade Center bombing, and religion.  The dullness of the rainy spring day was diminished by our eagerness to see what was around the next corner as we walked through the yard over wooden pathways and bridges surrounded by a forest of rusting metal decorated with thousands of words and bright plastic ephemera. Minter is constantly amending the ever-changing environment.  He recently added a piece in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.

Joe Minter’s Sandy Hook tribute, 2013


Dial’s early studio.

As we made our way to Dial’s studio we drove by his former home, a neat brick one-storybuilding that he built. The sidewalk to the house is lined with cement filled soda cans, actingas bricks, attesting to the fact that Dial’s innovative use of recycled materials is not only a trait of his artwork, but also a characteristic of his everyday life.  Behind the house is a small garage where Dial created his work for many years, unbeknownst to anyone but his family. Dial has always made things, but didn’t think of himself as an artist. Until a few years ago, Dial worked alone creating and moving large paintings and sculptures in the garage behind his house.  After he had a stroke in 2009, his sons created the new studio for him within the warehouse, and they began helping him move the heavy assemblages.  Inside Dial’s new studio, piles of scrap metal, wood, plastic flowers, paint cans, and old clothes populate almost every conceivable space.  Paintings in progress either hang neatly on the walls, or sit atop sawhorses, so he can attach materials such as charred wooden boards and cloth. From the surrounding sea of materials, glorious works of art arise.

Homemade soda can bricks line the driveway at Dial’s former home.

IFPDA Fair-Re-cap

Getting to New York this year for the print fair was no easy task. As you can imagine, Super Storm Sandy created mass confusion and a logistics nightmare. After many hours spent analyzing our chances of getting there we finally rearranged our cancelled flight and boarded a plane to arrive in New York Wednesday afternoon, only a day and a half later than planned.  We caught a cab straight to the Uptown Armory, suitcases in tow, anxious to see if our crates full of artwork had been delivered.  Miraculously they had, and we were able to begin intsalling our booth immediately. Thanks to the tireless work of Michele Senecal (IFPDA), Sanford Smith Associates, and the construction crews (who began building the booths midnight Tuesday and worked 18 hours straight)  the walls for the fair were ready. Not everyone was so lucky. Some art never arrived.

A few people’s shipments did not arrive in time.
Crates at the Armory

Uptown was in a kind of bubble, everything seemed almost OK, except that Central Park was closed and you couldn’t get anywhere by subway. But what really stood out was the shock on everybody’s face, the dazed look that us West Coasters recognize from the days following the Loma Prieta earthquake. As the magnitude of destruction unfolded, we heard stories from our collegues about the damage to homes, galleries, artwork, and worst of all, the loss of human life.  The Upper West Side had power and felt surreal in its near normalcy and we were lucky to be staying there.  Like everyone in New York who could, we offered one of our rooms to someone who was unable to commute to the fair from Brooklyn.

Renee Bott, Lothar Osterburg (who rode his bike to the fair from Brooklyn) and Judy Pfaff
The Uptown Armory (you’d never know there was a storm here).

The show opened a day late, the attendance was at half capacity (amazing considering the circumstances). Those who did make it were the diehards, supportive, and elated to be there at all.  The fair looked especially good with the glow of survival. We exhibited our latest pieces by Thornton Dial, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Gary Simmons, and Martin Puryear. For us the fair was extra special because it was a symbol of the city’s endurance and ability to overcome adversity.

A few highlights from the fair:

Durham Press
Pace Prints and Paragon Press
Barbara Krakow Gallery and Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press

We send our best wishes to everyone recovering from the storm and are thankful for the bravery and camaraderie of the people on the East Coast.


Shy Town Summer

The Art Institute of Chicago and Millenium Park

Stepping off the plane, Renee and I were engulfed by an ocean of hot air. Ninety-five degrees and 103% humidity (as our waiter later remarked). We caught a cab straight to the Art Institute of Chicago and met up with Mark Pascale. Mark is curating a show of Martin Puryear’s works on paper and invited us to discuss the prints we’ve made with Martin over the last 11 years. Graciously, Mark gave us a welcoming tour of the newish Renzo Piano addition, including the spacious gallery Martin’s exhibition will occupy. The light in the new section is refreshing, with windows overlooking native prairie gardens.
Mark further indulged us by taking us into the cavernous storage rooms of the works on paper collection, where row upon row of large flat files housed works slumbering in a climate-controlled stupor. Mark opened drawers and unshelved framed works, rousing Lee Bontecou etchings printed by Tatyana Grosman, gigantic Russian war posters, a dog collage by Joan Brown, and a charcoal study by Kerry James Marshall that I will never forget. Next up was the conservation department, where we talked glue theory with the conservators and enjoyed inspecting all their work areas and tools.

Pam Paulson in the Print Room at the AIC


Finally, we found repose in the study room in the company of “Profile” by Martin Puryear and kicked back for an overview of the material that has been gathered to date for the show. Last fall, we shipped 99 working proofs and miscellaneous ephemera from our projects with Martin to the Art Institute to document the process of making the prints. It is really amazing to see this idea for the exhibition take shape.
Exiting the museum, we swam over to Millennium Park, strolling beside smartly designed fountains full of hot Chicagoans cooling themselves in the mist.  We wound our way over to the fun house mirror, “Cloud Gate” (Anish Kapoor’s monumental bean) and around to Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. All wows!Mark visited Martin a few months ago with Ruth Fine (curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art) and Harriet Stratis (head of paper conservation at the Art Institute) to take a look at his personal archive of works on paper. Martin studied printmaking in Sweden and made highly successful prints early in his career. Renee and I had glimpsed these early works the first time we visited Martin’s studio. It was great fun to be virtually reintroduced.

Renee and Pam infront of the Kapoor



The next day we looked at all the working proofs and the correlating edition prints, analyzing how we got from A to B. Not always easy to recreate, but thanks to usefully redundant documentation, we were satisfied we had it right. Mostly!


Later, after a quick walk to the lake, we met up with our old friend Stephanie Sherman for drinks and dinner at Gage, across from the museum. Stephanie (an amazing art professional) introduced us to the very handsome Billy Lawless, who owns Gage as well as Henri, its sister restaurant next door. We relaxed with a great cheese plate, fine martinis, a venison burger, and the fabulous staff. Then it was on to Henri for a memorable dessert at the bar.

Andy Cutting & Brice McCoy at Henri

Thankfully, the next morning, the temperature had backed down, and rainclouds mitigated the blazing sun. Skirting downpours, we paid a visit to Kerry James Marshall’s studio. Kerry is an amazingly productive individual. He has multiple projects in the works and then some. We were delighted to see several of his models, who closely resemble the one he worked with while in our studio.

Barbi Dolls at KJM’s studio

Of great interest to me are the costumes Kerry and his assistant have designed and sewn for his dolls/models to wear when he draws them. They intentionally avoid recalling a discernible time period yet remain oddly familiar. The use of oversized elements like buttons and textures from the ribbing of socks upends the expected.

We boarded the plane back to the Bay Area exhausted and inspired. However, we were certainly not as exhausted as this guy in Renee’s row.

Face plant sleeper.

Slow Art

Berkeley is considered by many to be a bastion of the Slow Food movement. Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and other local stars have challenged our need for speed. At Paulson Bott Press, we can relate. Making etchings is a methodical endeavor. The process demands tenacity. We often sow the seeds for projects years in advance. Once the artist is in the studio, we carefully tend the task of making the prints.  Sometimes the idea emerges right away and we refine, and other times it’s more trial and error. It’s Slow Art.

Kerry James Marshall, “Better Homes, Better Gardens”, 1994 Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Our experience with the artist Kerry James Marshall is a case in point. When I first heard him speak, I was amazed. ( If you ever get a chance to hear him, do!) Renee and I had just begun to publish prints when we flew down to San Diego in 1997 to meet Kerry and invite him to work with us. I remember my enthusiasm for his painting and for the visionary path he intended to carve through art history. I also recall my dismay when he didn’t immediately agree to come to our studio that fall. We kept at it.

Kerry James Marshall, “Visable Means of Support: Monticello and Mount Vernon”, 2009 Courtesy SF MOMA

Last year, 13 years after that initial invitation, while the dust was still settling in our new shop, Kerry finally came to Paulson Bott Press. Kerry was working on the installation of two murals, “Visible Means of Support: Monticello” and “Visible Means of Support: Mount Vernon ” in the atrium of SFMOMA, and we had the chance to collaborate.

We began with a very ambitious large image. As a young man, Kerry had tried etching. He had in mind a myriad of intaglio techniques that he would use to create the print. We started with a softground drawing of the basic image, then added successive plates (with aquatints, spitbites, sugarlift, and drypoint) to flesh out the color, value, and density. “Vignette (Wishing Well)” relies on a smorgasbord of techniques, including chine collé and hand painting, and it is a testament to patience. The print comprises six plates made over a two-week period.

Kerry James Marshall, “Vignette (Wishing Well)”, 2010; Color Etching; Published by Paulson Bott Press

During the first week, we were working towards a brightly colored image. Kerry introduced the idea of shaped plates to reinforce the structural components in the print. We all had fun wielding the metal nippers to cut the pieces of copper that were needed.  While we were proofing, the color direction changed, and some plates were abandoned.
The multiple tinted greys required the plates to be inked “a la poupée” (several different colors inked on each individual plate). Four printers work 2.5 hours to ink and print a single print, and it takes an additional 1.5 hours to print hearts, chine collé them, and hand paint the prints before they are ready to be signed.

Unused plates

A single plate can go into the acid numerous times before reaching a final state. This is true of each plate making up the larger print as well as the single plate prints. “Untitled Woman” was rolled with hardground drawn on and etched nine times before we pulled the OKTP.

Kerry in the Paulson Bott Studio

Slow Art is an apt description of what goes on at the press. Even when we are running around in a frenzy, we cannot go faster than the process’s inherent physicality, we cannot rush the steps and stages and the resonance of the image and our understanding of what the artist wants. It took awhile for this project to take root, and once it began to grow, it flourished. I hope you will be able to take a moment and spend some time with Kerry James Marshall’s exceptional work.