As any printmaker knows, there’s a whole slew of supplies required for their art: washout booths with a pressure washer, large work tables, light tables, rosin boxes, hinged platens, a paper guillotine, drying racks, soaking tubs, inks, solvents, paints, letterpress type, screens, brayers. The list goes on.
And that’s not even counting the print itself.
Most of us are not in a position to afford or house a large letterpress or etching press. Even screen printing supplies can take up a good chunk of real estate in your home.
This is the situation that Heather Halpern found herself in several years ago. An artist since a young age—“drawing since I could hold a crayon,” she says—Heather has studied art independently, as well as taken classes, in the various places she has lived, immersing herself in the art scene wherever she decided to take up residency. “I had studied all forms of art,” says Heather, “and then finally got around to printmaking at Lane Community College (LCC) and just fell in love with it.”
Heather quickly discovered that she could incorporate printmaking into her own encaustic painting. “There is so much to do with printmaking,” she says. “I am very process-oriented. I like experimentation, and the results are not always predictable with printmaking.”
Before long, Heather acquired her own press.
However, finding a place to house it was a problem. “When I finished my training in printmaking, I didn’t have a place to continue working,” Heather says. “I was ready to set up the press in our living room.” She started chatting with other printmakers in the community about the possibility of opening a community studio. “Everyone was really excited about the idea, but no one had the means to open the space,” she says.
That’s when Heather’s husband, Paul Halpern, an engineer, decided it was time the two of them take on the project themselves. “If you want to have access to this type of equipment, you have to shell out a bunch of money or there are the two campuses (UO and LCC), but you have to be a student,” Paul notes.
So Whiteaker Printmakers was born, with the idea of offering a community studio that also offers educational opportunities.
Today, a dozen active members have 24/7 access to the studio, where they can work on their woodcuts, linocuts, monotype, screen printing, drypoint, etching, and other projects.
“I have been interested in prints all my life but have not had access to a press, until I found Whitaker Printmakers,” says artist Joseph Davis. “Now I can make plates and print them in the presses and produce new (to me) kinds of artwork.”
Acquiring the studio’s presses has been nothing short of fortuitous. Their etching press was offered to them at a good price by Margaret Prentice, professor emeritus in the art department at the University of Oregon, who had the press custom built for her by mechanical engineer Ray Trayle. It has a 48-inch by 96-inch bed, which is amongst the largest on the West Coast
Their etching press collection also includes two midsize Ettan presses and one small press.
As far as their letterpresses go: One is on loan from “letterpress expert” Sean O’Reilly, who lives in Dexter; the other comes from Portland master printmaker Mark Mahaffey, who got it from Jim Hibbard, who got it from Gordon Gilkey. “It has a pedigree,” says Paul.
“We just keep accumulating more equipment,” Heather adds.
In addition to the equipment, for a monthly fee, members are also given access to all the supplementary materials, from ink to paper towels.
Community members who are interested in using the studio must have some printmaking training. For newcomers to the printmaking world, Whiteaker Printmakers is also there to help. In addition to the studio’s frequent workshops, Heather provides private tutoring. And soon, the studio will also offer printmaking classes through LCC’s continuing education program.
“If you want to do this type of art, it’s not easy to get into,” says Paul, which is why the studio offers regular workshops and other events. Coming up this fall, the studio is offering another round of its three-Saturday letterpress series.
“There isn’t money to be made in this business, but there are good things that can come from it,” Paul says. “There isn’t another community resource out there like this.”