On July 16, “Paulson Bott Press: Celebrating Twenty Years” opened in the Anderson Gallery of San Francisco’s de Young Museum. The show celebrates the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts’ acquisition of the Paulson Bott Press archive, which includes more than 500 prints from more than 40 artists. Featured artists in the exhibition include: Tauba Auerbach, Mary Lee Bendolph, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Martin Puryear, and Gary Simmons.
“It was wonderful to see a few of our former master printers on the day we first saw the exhibition at the de Young,” says Co-Founder, Pam Paulson. “Looking back and remembering all the talented and dedicated people who have been a part of our story is humbling. Each person involved with the press has contributed their unique gifts and enriched the prints we have produced and our capacity to get them out in the world.”
Gallery Director, Rhea Fontaine adds, “We are grateful for the opportunity to share our archive with a wide audience through the Achenbach acquisition and programming at the de Young. To know that our artists, many of whom are minorities and women, will be a part of this visual history and legacy is thrilling for us.”
Pictured from left to right: Rhea Fontaine, Pam Paulson, Alexander Groshong, Sam Carr-Prindle, and Renee Bott.
Founded by Pam Paulson and Renee Bott in 1996, Paulson Bott Press celebrates 20 years of intaglio fine art. Having launched the studio with a series of prints by Chris Brown, the press has gone on to work with numerous renowned and emerging artists.
Paulson, who has a background in fine art, began her printing career in San Francisco, California. “I wasn’t a printer, but Kathan Brown at Crown Point was looking for people who had the capacity to think on their feet and physically manipulate things and who knew enough about art not to be stupid with the artists,” Paulson says. “Once I had done a couple projects at Crown Point, I was completely hooked. I was watching other people make things. It was a puzzle that you had to figure out, and it was glorious. I loved it. I make things all day, and what really connects me to art is making things. That’s what I am supposed to do.”
Renee Bott was a colleague of Paulson’s at Crown Point. “Pam had the big picture, the broader vision, while I like having the pencils in the right place: I like order,” Bott says. “She was very optimistic from the outset. I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to do this, we need to order a press, and it should be made this way. When I started working as a printer and working with artists, I felt like I was home. I was home. I had arrived.”
Paulson Bott considers every print that gets ripped up, or kept, as a record of what the press is doing and has diligently documented the work with a time capsule that plots history. This includes the process of working with established artists like Martin Puryear and Ross Bleckner and younger artists like Tauba Auerbach and Clare Rojas. This year, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts acquired the archive of Paulson Bott Press.
“We started this from the very first day,” Bott says. “We understood that if we created something, we wanted it to have a legacy. When there is a catalog raisonné of the work that we’ve made, we want to look back and see a strong vision.”
To celebrate the acquisition, the Foundation will host a commemorative exhibition at the de Young Museum’s Anderson Gallery featuring 20 artists who have worked at the press, including Tauba Auerbach, Mary Lee Bendolph, Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Martin Puryear, and Gary Simmons.
“We are interested in a broad platform with a mix of artists,” says Rhea Fontaine, Paulson Bott’s gallery director. “We are very focused on artists who add to the conversation in the realm of the work that they are doing, not just what we are doing.” The press will concurrently celebrate its catalogue with a retrospective on its Twitter and Facebook pages. Follow the conversation under the hashtag #20years20stories.
The show at the de Young will open next month on July 16, running through October 23, and can be viewed with general admission access.
The first time I met Louisiana Bendolph was 10 years ago when she and her mother-in-law Mary Lee Bendolph came to the press in 2005. Both are quilters from the tiny hamlet of Gee’s Bend in Wilcox County, Alabama. The women of Gee’s Bend entered the spot-light in 2003 when their quilts were exhibited at the Whiney Museum of Art. Since that show, their quilts have traveled to numerous national and international venues.
Louisiana stands about 5 foot 4. She is patient and demure and a tiny bit shy, but you can immediately detect strength in her stature.
The stories Louisiana tells of her childhood are vastly different from mine. I am two years her elder, and I remember well the 1970s and my benign day-to-day routine growing up in the suburbs of Boston. Lou’s accounts of those same years reveal a life of hardship that is difficult for me to fathom. She spoke about leaving school to help harvest her family’s cotton crop. They plowed and planted with the help of a donkey. When she talks about her life as a daughter, wife, mother and quilter, her deep connection to her family is evident. Louisiana’s origins give her a straightforward practicality that guides her in times of trouble.
Over the past 10 years, we have done three print projects together. She works in solid colored cotton piecing her work together at the sewing machine. Her compositions are bold and forthright, but her asymmetrical lines are poetic and reveal a complex approach to her art.
Lou is not afraid to show us her strength. In New Generation, a print she made in 2007, she uses a confident composition of ivory, orange and brown. Alternating colored stripes radiate from a central brown strip. As the title suggests, Lou comes from a new generation of quilters who aim to move beyond the cultural obstacles of their communities’ past.
Her strength includes a willingness to speak frankly about what she believes. In 2007, I watched an unwavering Lou spontaneously take to the podium at a U.S. State Department dinner in Washington D.C. In front of 500 spectators, she thanked her mother and the women in her life, and she thanked the Arnett family for their contributions to her community. Louisiana continually champions the quilters of Gee’s Bend, traveling and speaking to audiences all over the world.
Thinking of Lou’s strength and resolve to usher in a new generation, we are pleased that her print New Generation has been chosen to be replicated in tile for the new terminal at the San Francisco International Airport as part of the San Francisco Art Commission’s public art program. The terminal will open to the public on November 13th of this year.
We are grateful to Justine Topfer from the art commission for choosing Lou’s work, to Don Farnsworth and Tallulah Terryll for making the tile, and to Randy Colosky for his help with the installation.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://wunc.org/post/artistry-rural-alabama-meets-art-world.
The process of procuring a project with an artist can be more complex than you would think. Even the simple act of delivering an invitation can be quite an undertaking. In 1996, when Pam and I formed our partnership, we drew up a list of artists we wished to publish and Caio Fonseca was high on that list.
Around this time Caio was on the cover of Modern Painters. A handsome young man seated in front of an impressive blue and white canvas, his gaze directed away from the viewer. The article spoke of Fonseca’s love of classical music, his ability to play the piano and his multilingual background. Evident in his lyrical abstractions is his Latin influence.
At that time we had worked mainly with California artists. As we set out to find a way to connect with Fonseca, we sought assistance from our colleague Betsy Senior. Betsy had previously worked at Experimental Workshop in San Francisco but had gone on to open a gallery in New York on West Broadway in Soho. Betsy introduced us to a friend of hers who worked with Caio’s gallery at the time. Three months later Pam and I were standing in Caio’s New York studio.
Pam and I were new to the experience of visiting an artist’s studio. I was completely overdressed. I had on a black skirt, nylons and heels, impossible for navigating the streets of New York. Caio was dressed in comfortable clothes, wearing black jeans with a patina of paint splatter. His studio was romantic in the archetypal artist-studio way, as well as rustic. In one corner was a grand piano. As I tried not to squirm with discomfort and cursing my shoes, Caio put us at ease. Between his questions about printmaking Caio peppered the conversation with a hilarious pantomime of flipping open his leather wallet as if to answer a cell phone call. Cell phones were just hitting the market then, and Caio’s simulated cell phone ring and ensuing conversation had us laughing. After we managed to work out the dates for our first project, Caio offered us a cup of a “healthy green drink” and a Bach invention. We moved to the grand piano, and Caio played several Bach fuges and a Mozart sonata. I was transported to my youth, having grown up listening to my father play those same pieces on his grand piano.
When Caio came to work with us in 1999, Paulson Bott Press was located in its inaugural space in Emeryville. We rented him a small upright piano. Since our studio was so small, we put the piano in our hallway. Caio arrived carrying a leather bag, which he emptied it on the artist’s table. We marveled at his vast collection of implements, ranging from his handmade golden-mean calipers to everyday kitchen gadgets like pasta cutters and forks. Caio worked quickly, and it was all Pam and I could do to keep up with him. Printing an etching is slow, so while Caio waited to see his next proof, he would walk to the hallway and play a sonata or two. He enjoyed discovering the printing process, and he was adept at creating his own vocabulary for our techniques. Terms like “spitbite” and “softground” he renamed “hamsterbite” and “softpound,” and although we laughed, we all knew exactly what he was talking about.
We have been collaborating with him to make etchings for almost twenty years and have produced a large body of work rooted in formalism. Caio continually draws inspiration from his musical background while his study of color and composition evolves. The most recent prints are forthright and vivid, signifying a strong direction within his oeuvre and within our work together.