Necessity is the mother of invention for the Tamarind Institute at The University of New Mexico. As most of the university, Tamarind has shut its doors due to the current public health crisis but wants to let people continue to enjoy its collection and learn about the artists who work there.
Therefore, Tamarind will be operating virtually through April 6, according to institute director Diana Gaston. Visitors to the website can watch videos, explore Tamarind’s vast archives, read about guest artists, and even purchase prints from a large inventory. For parents trying to get in a little home-schooling while children are out of regular classes, there is family-friendly fare where youngsters can find out more about the artists and their craft.
Gaston explained some of the measures the institute is taking to stay vital and keep collaborating with its artists during this time when artists and the public need to isolate.
“We closed the gallery for the next few weeks for the safety of our staff and visitors, and are strictly limiting the activity in the workshop during this time. We had a project scheduled with Laylah Ali, an artist based in western Massachusetts. Rather than have her here in the workshop to finalize two new prints, we modified our approach by arranging to send proofs back and forth via mail. It’s another way of collaborating. Problem solving and contingency planning are central to the work we do at Tamarind every day, and this situation has tested us to find solutions for projects that are under way.”
Gaston has been the director for four years.
“As an institution that prides itself in its documentation and record keeping, Tamarind has vast stores of material in our archives written by my three predecessors, and I feel that I know each of them. I come out of a curatorial background, and first became acquainted with the depth of Tamarind and its contributions to printmaking years ago, while I was the Curator of Prints and Photographs at the UNM Art Museum,” she said.
Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Inc. was founded in Los Angeles in 1960 as a means to rescue the dying art of lithography and became affiliated with UNM in 1970. Today Tamarind is a nonprofit workshop occupying a building on the original Route 66, with a state-of-the-art workshop, public gallery, and regular public programs and tours. Tamarind encompasses an extensive archive of historic material, a vast print inventory of 8,000 lithographs produced by the workshop, and a team of highly trained printers, curators, and print experts. The institute stimulates research, preservation of knowledge, and community among a diverse international following. This unique program is widely credited with revitalizing the creative medium of lithography, and continues to provide the only printer training program of its kind in the world.
Lithography is a printmaking technique. Unlike woodcut and intaglio, lithography is a chemical medium, based on the principle that oil and water don’t mix. The artist draws with a greasy material such as chalk or crayon on to a prepared limestone or an aluminum plate. The medium is processed and the stone or plate wiped down with a solvent until only a ghost version of the image remains. An oil-based printing ink is applied with a roller, and then a sheet of paper is placed on top of the inked matrix and then run through the press. The pressure from the press transfers the image to the paper.
The medium of lithography was invented in Germany by Alois Senefelder in 1798. Like many inventions, lithography came about by accident, as the Bavarian author Senefelder accidentally discovered that he could duplicate his scripts by writing on slabs of limestone with a greasy crayon, and then printing them with rolled-on ink. Lithography is derived from the Greek words for “stone” and “writing”, and artists draw directly on the lithographic stone or plate.
Throughout its history, lithography has been used for both commercial purposes and fine art. When Tamarind established the workshop in Los Angeles in 1960, it was focused on reviving the art of lithography. The medium had fallen off at that time, Gaston explained, and there were very few skilled printers trained in the process, or artists who were interested in making prints. Tamarind changed all that by restoring the possibilities of the medium, publishing its research, attracting artists to explore lithography, and training artisan printers in the complex nuances and chemistry of the medium.
“Lithography is an art form that really requires the collaboration of a skilled printer and an artist, working together to realize the full potential of this labor intensive process. It is one of the most versatile printmaking processes, capable of great range of tone and line, and it most closely captures the artist’s mark or gesture on the stone or plate,” she said.
Tamarind has been printing and publishing lithographs since 1960. The complete archive for study and research is housed with the UNM Art Museum. The inventory maintained at Tamarind includes some 8,000 lithographs from the institute’s 60-year history, and these prints are exhibited in the gallery and available for sale.
“Our print sales help to fund the educational program at Tamarind,” Gaston said.
Through the website, visitors can browse through the collections, learn about creating lithographs, and meet the artists via short videos. Parents trying to keep kids busy can take a virtual trip to the gallery too.
“All of our videos are kid friendly, especially the short Student Impressions series, where they can hear from young printers from around the globe as to why they came to study lithography in New Mexico,” Gaston said.
Tamarind is a worldwide collaborative.
“Printmaking is all about community and collaboration. Tamarind is revered around the world as the institution that rescued the dying art of lithography and established a unique printer training program in collaborative printmaking. We train the future generations of printers and keep the collaborative exchange between artist and printer vital. We bring contemporary artists from all over to our workshop here in Albuquerque, and offer programs for the public to hear from these visiting artists; we have a gallery that is free and (usually) open to the public, and we offer education and guidance in how to begin collecting prints. Prints are multiples, and meant to be shared and collected. Prints have a long history of being one of the most democratic art forms; to me that means that prints are for all of us.”
“Please join us online for inspiration, education, amusement, and a bit of community,” Gaston concluded.