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Atelier West, Newfoundland, Canada

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An Interview with Audrey Feltham of Atelier West

Make a list and go over it twice. Like Santa…

Q: I see that your consultations and courses, residences and exhibits have taken place all over Canada and abroad (including a visit to World Printmakers in Spain, and printing a small edition in Maureen Booth’s Pomegranate Editions studio there). I am guessing that necessity to travel is due to the sparse population of your neighbourhood on the western side of the island of Newfoundland, and the consequent scarcity of printmakers. Would it be fair to call yours an “itinerant print workshop”?

The isolation of the island of Newfoundland certainly does play a role in how I have structured my printshop. We have one communal printshop on the island, and it is in St. John’s, the capital city, which is an 8 hour drive from Deer Lake. When I set up Atelier West in 1992 I was keenly aware of the fact that I was isolated from the main stream of artmaking on the island, which does occur for the most part in St. John’s. I was also aware that there would be future printmakersgraduating from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook (my alma mater) and would at some point probably want to stay on the west coast. So I decided to build my own shop/studio and hope for the best. It has been a long struggle. I have done everything from workshops in primary/elementary school, high school and replacement positions in secondary education in order to survive. I also do a lot of workshops across the island, travelling with a portable table top press. This has made me more aware of “green” printing, and the necessity to offer processes that do not require a lot of solvent use, etc. So yes, I guess you could say that I am a bit like the proverbial turtle, who carries his home on his back (or workshop, if you like).

Q: Could you tell us what made you decide to get into printmaking and where you learned it?

A: I went back to university to complete by B.F.A. as a mature student in 1987. I started out thinking that I would major in painting, but in my second year of the four year programme I was introduced to printmaking, first to relief, and then to intaglio. I fell in love with the medium immediately. It had everything I wanted… a love of drawing, a deep study of line and color, and that elusive attachment to sculpture through the sense of raised and embedded surfaces. I was hooked. I graduated from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, a small campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Q: The distances that you have to deal with are mind boggling. To go to St. John’s, the capital city, with a population of 100,000 or so, you have to travel 600-700 km. Or at least that’s what it looks like on Google’s Map. Is that right? Do you drive or fly? That is to say nothing of where your husband, Jim, teaches and coaches in the Inuit village of Pond Inlet, something like 3,000 lm. further north on the Baffin Sea! How does one get used to dealing with those distances in daily life?

You are right. It is a 7-8 hour drive to St. John‘s from Deer Lake. We do have a city on the west coast of the island, Corner Brook, which is only 1/2 hour from Deer Lake. But it is relatively small with little to offer in the way of good shopping. It does however have a good art supply store associated with the university there and I get a lot of my art supplies there, or on-line.

One gets used to the isolation. You have to remember that Newfoundland was essentially settled despite the resistance of the mother country(ies) Britain and France. Neither colonial power wanted the island settled, they just wanted to supply migrant workers for the summer fishery and then to benefit from the rewards of the cod supply. Settlement came about despite the fact that it was illegal to settle. Therefore if you settled on this Rock, you came knowing that you were isolated. My husband’s family settled on a little rock out in the middle of Bonavista Bay, called Deer Island. At the time of re-settlement, under the Smallwood government, in the late 1950’s, there were probably no more than 15 families living on that island. They had a one-room school, no doctor, no clinic, and postal service that was sporadic at best. Supplies were ordered and received by costal boat when the weather was good. For many people, they would consider this a very hard existence, but it had some advantages… you weren’t bothered too much by government intruders, and you had no crime. The latter is still a great advantage to living in Newfoundland. Our crime rate is exceedingly low, although like everywhere drugs are beginning to be a problem.

When I go to St. John’s I either drive or fly, depending on the weather. In the winter I tend to fly. We get a lot of freezing rain/snow mixture here, and that can make driving treacherous. It can also play havoc with flying, and flights into St. John’s are often cancelled in the winter, or delayed, because getting into St. John’s itself, where the airport is literally a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, can make icing a real problem on the wings of the aircraft.

As to Jim and his distance from me… Jim is retired, but does these positions periodically. I consider myself fortunate that we have been married for 38 years this year, and his itinerant teaching has only occurred in the past few years. This coming year will be his last in Pond Inlet. Then he says he retires for good. We will see. But, to get back to the question of distance. Newfoundlanders have always dealt with this issue of separation of family. It was so as a matter of survival. Men went to the sealing in the spring of the year and were gone for months. Women did not know if they were alive or dead. When they came back from sealing, they found work in the woods. There were no roads in Nfld. at that time, and they travelled by either walkingor by train/walking. Travel took a long time. When they got to the woods camps they were there until the winter set in, and then they returned to their families. If you were lucky enough to be able to fish the inshore, and owned your own boat and traps, etc., then you stayed at home, but the life at sea was a hard one, and women always worried about whether they would see their spouses home in the evening. As the economy has become more global, it has simply meant that men now travel to places like the oil fields of Alberta, and work 24 days on, 8 off; they are flown home at the company’s expense for the 8 days off, but the family at home has to cope with their father/husband gone for long times. I read an article today about young people in Newfoundland growing up “fatherless”. I don’t think really this is a new phenomena. I think it has been a way of life in Nfld. since it was settled. Women were always responsible for the raising of the children.

Q. Please tell us that kinds of clients you have, and for what services.

Because of the nature of the “itinerant workshop” style, my clientelle is very varied. I have had professional artists come and work with me here in the workshop. I have printed editions for professional artists. I have also done workshops for adults who are interested in printmaking and want to know more about the process. I do a lot of workshops in schools and take every opportunity to do that to pass along the information about the printing process so that students know and understand the difference between the fine art print and offset reproductions. I also do workshops sponsored through the provincial government department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development to offer printmaking as a process which might be incorporated into craft development in the province.

Q. So you’re also a printmaking missionary. Is that it? Do you find that the art teachers to whom you teach printmaking follow up and pass some of that knowledge on to their pupils?

You could say that and be pretty comfortable doing so. People know that I am very passionate about what I do, and that they have to be very careful about opening a dialogue about fine art printmaking and offset reproductions. You will get an earful!! As for art teachers… some do, some don’t. It depends how much they take in, and how they see the information as relevant to their students. I have had some wonderful relationships with teachers/administrators who truly see the importance of the arts to the daily lives of their students, and they take every opportunity to reinforce that. Then I have had others who could care less.

Q: Your favorite (‘signature ‘) technique is quite unusual. Would you care to describe it for us?

All art is I believe a composite of life experience. I learned at an early age to appreciate the skills of the textile worker. My grandmother came from Norway and was an accomplished embroiderer. My mother was a skilled seamstress, and out of necessity she was able to take apart and redraft clothing to fit us. So I knew those skills early. When I became older and interested in art, I always held those skills close to me. After I graduated from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College with my BFA and set up my studio, I wanted to produce prints that had a distinctive mark of “me” about them. Everyone does. And the more I explored the idea of printmaking and the idea of making a “matrix” which is really a “pattern” to create a series, or multiple of images, the more I was drawn back to the idea of textile production. They had so much in common. Paper is really a textile, except it is pulped. Textiles and paper react in much the same way when they are printed. And both can be sewn. So there I went…. taking out the sewing machine, sewing different papers together to create the surface that would accept the inked image. Incorporating that sewing line as part of the drawn image. It was such a challenge to combine the two, and it created a rich and often times complex layers of surface in which the artist’s hand is involved. People who collect my prints often remark on the richness of the surface, and the fact that they can return again and again to the print and see things that they had missed before.

Please tell us your secrets of giving printmaking courses, if there is such a thing. What guarantees a fulfilling course?

Everyone approaches teaching in a different manner, because we have individual personalities. But I think the thing to remember is that every student you have is there to learn something. And bearing that in mind, you have to remember to simplify the process as much as possible. This is particularly important if you are teaching an introductory course. Too much information is just overwhelming. And I try to demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate. When people can see you doing it, they remember. I always give a small booklet of notes to my students before the workshop outlining the process. I tell them not to look at it in class. It is for them to take home, and to refer to in the evenings in they wish. All the information that I will pass on to them is in that booklet, but I want them to feel that they can pay attention to me, and not have to take notes.

The workshop is fulfilling if my students go away satisfied that they have learned the process and want to continue to explore the process. I could care less about the images they make. They will sort that out in time.

Any tips for people who are loading their workshop in a van and travelling to their first “away” printmaking course?

Make a list. And go over it twice. Like Santa. There is nothing more frustrating that getting there and discovering that you meant to include your portable inking slab and it is still in the studio!! I take the list downstairs to the studio and cross things off as I pack them in boxes. Then I know I have everything. Take more paper than you think you will need. Never assume that you will be able to get something there. I use a product called Simple Green for clean up and and I always take it with me. I use Daniel Smith waterbased printing inks. I take blotters with me, and enough newspaper to ensure that every student won’t run out of newsprint that is essential for printing (the newsprint is lightly dampened, laid on top of the printing paper, and then the two sheets are embossed by hand to release the ink to the paper.) I even take rags with me for clean up. Oh, and make sure you take examples of your own work. They will ask and be terribly disappointed if you haven’t included something. It reinforces for them that you know what you are talking about and they haven’t put out money for nothing.

How important would you say it is for printmaking workshop people to visit other workshops both in their own country and abroad?

I think that it is important. Bearing that in mind, I haven’t done a tremendous number of residences. I have done several though, and they have been nationally, provincially and internationally. Part of the problem is always expense. Residences are not normally fully funded and artists have to come up with the money to pay accommodation, travel and workshop fee expenses along with art supplies while they are in residence. Before 9/11 it was a bit easier.

You could carry a lot of art supplies, etc. with you. Now it is impossible. The airlines won’t accommodate you. I remember taking my ventilator mask with me to a residency in 1992 on the airlines… can you imagine what kind of furor that would cause today? They would immediately assume you were a terrorist.

I encourage artists to consider doing residencies at least once every 5-7 years. It gets you out of a comfortable “niche” and puts you in a situation where you are exposed to artists taking risks that you would never consider. You will come back rejuvenated and ready to challenge yourself.

Looking at your website I found that you are something of a luxury: a printmaker who writes. I found accounts of your workshops around Canada and your residency at Black Church studio in Dublin fascinating reading? Have you considered writing a print-theme book or blog?

That’s very flattering. I consider it very important to be articulate if you are going to be in the business of passing along information. I have worked hard at distilling information to make it interesting to the general public. As for your question, I respond, “Where would I find the time?” It would mean that I would have to sacrifice my studio time for art practise, and I can’t do that. My website does not contain a lot of the material information about my “other art life”; I am very active in art advocacy. I am currently the Chair of the Association of Cultural Industries for Newfoundland and Labrador, I am a board member of VANL/Carfac (Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador) and sit on their advocacy committee, and am ex-officio chair of LAWN (League of Artists of Newfoundland and Labrador).

I do the advocacy work because I feel it needs to be done, and very few will take on the responsibility or feel that they are articulate enough to do so. My days are full. However, that being said, if the opportunity presented itself, and the subject matter was interesting enough, who knows?

Contact Audrey at Atelier West:

38 Elizabeth Ave.

Deer Lake, Newfoundland
Canada A8A 1H5

Written by Michael Booth

July 23, 2008 at 12:17 pm

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