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Zea Mays Printmaking, Florence, MA, USA

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studio-new

Who We Are

Founded in 2000, Zea Mays Printmaking is a studio, workshop, exhibition space, educational facility and research center dedicated to new approaches in printmaking. At Zea Mays we honor the rich tradition of printmaking by exploring alternatives that are safe for artists and the environment.

Liz Chalfin working with student Liz Chalfin working with student

Louise Kohrman teaching chine colle

Louise Kohrman teaching chine colle

At Zea Mays we research new developments in alternatives to toxic printmaking. We test products and methods and strive to demonstrate the greatest aesthetic potential of each new medium. We document our research extensively and have a library of material on safer printmaking.

As an educational facility we offer artists printmakers, students, teachers, and novices workshops in both old and new approaches to printmaking. Our emphasis is on intaglio, relief, photopolymer and monotype printmaking and we offer a wide range of courses for all levels of expertise. Zea Mays’ staff and prominent guest artists teach the courses. Our instructors are experts in their particular field of printmaking.  Weekend workshops are offered September – June.  In July and August we offer longer intensives (3-5 days).  Our workshops are listed on our website: www.zeamaysprintmaking.com. Zea Mays is also available for individual collaborations with artists seeking to explore unique issues in printmaking or publish an edition of prints.

Alison Williams at workAlison Williams at work
Anita Hunt inking copper

Anita Hunt inking copper

Our spacious studio can accommodate up to seven working artists at a time.  Studio access is by membership or on a drop-in basis if you’ve taken a workshop with us.  We currently have 55 members hailing from the USA, Canada and India.  Our editioning Annex is a private studio with a large press and is available to artist/printmakers who want to create an edition or work on an extended project.  We also use it for contract printing projects.

Liz Chalfin is founder and director of Zea Mays Printmaking and the studio’s resident artist. She has been involved in printmaking for the past 25 years. Liz teaches workshops at Zea Mays and takes the message of safer printmaking on the road to venues across the region. She received a B.A. (1980) and M.F.A. (1985) in printmaking. Liz taught printmaking at Whittier College, California for nine years and converted the traditional studio there into a safer facility. In addition to college teaching, Liz worked as a teaching artist and educator at several national museums. Her work is exhibited nationally and is in both public and private collections in the U.S. and Europe, including the Smith College Museum of Art, The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, The Boston Public Library, and The Portland Museum of Art.

Zea Mays is committed to bringing printmaking safely into the 21st century through research, education and collaboration.  We have a monthly newsletter.  You can subscribe on our website:  www.zeamaysprintmaking.com

Our Studio

Zea Mays Printmaking is located in a beautiful, bright, 2,500 sq. ft. studio in the prominent Arts and Industry Building in Florence, Massachusetts. The Arts and Industry Building houses over 100 artist’s studios and small businesses and has a regional reputation as the workspace of some of the area’s most creative people.

A view of the Zea Mays studio

A view of the Zea Mays studio

The editioning press in the annex

The editioning press in the annex

Zea Mays is a state-of-the-art printmaking studio. We have a 32″x60″ Takach etching press, 24″x34″ Praga etching press, a 24″ x 40″ Takach etching press and a 18″ x 24″ relief press.  Our editioning annex has a 38″ x 70″ Takach etching press and is available for private rental.  We also have a NuArc UV plate exposure unit, airbrush booth for aquatints, full plate processing facilities, vertical etching tanks with ferric chloride, hotplate, plate cutter, 8 individual workstations, matting area, exhibition space and library of books and periodicals.

Zea Mays is situated in the picturesque Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts. We are a mere two-hour drive to Boston and three to New York City.  The cosmopolitan town of Northampton (home to Smith College) is three miles away from the the studio and has been rated one of the ten best small art towns in America for several years running. Northampton is a lively center for the arts, good food and live music as well as wonderful outdoor activities.

Our Prints

THE FLAT FILE at Zea Mays Printmaking provides a hands-on gallery experience for visitors. It houses over 300 prints by member artists. The work in the Flat File represents the finest examples of prints made using green technologies. They include etchings, monoprints, woodcuts and linoleum prints, serigraphs and mixed media prints.

Porcupine

Porcupine

Our in-house gallery space features 6-10 exhibitions each year.  We host an annual juried artists’ book exhibition as well as the occasional juried print show.  We also feature invitational exhibitions from artists around the world, curated exhibitions from our flat file, educational exhibitions from our archive and shows of our members’ work.

In 2004 Zea Mays Printmaking published our first portfolio, “The Nature of Things.”  Housed in a silk clamshell box, the collection of 15 prints in letterpress sleeves features both artist members and guest faculty from the studio’s early years. The portfolio is in the collection of several major museums and libraries.

The Zea Mays Gallery

The Zea Mays Gallery

We host an annual Print Fair in November of each year, titled Print Fair North.  It’s a weekend open house where we have hundreds of prints available for viewing and sale.

The Cuban exhibition

The Cuban exhibition

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Interview with Liz Chalfin, Zea Mays Printmaking

Q: Your excellent, very complete website is too modest in the Who We Are department. Please tell us a little more about the origins of the studio. Who, when, why, and why Florence, MA? Please narrate for us, time-line fashion, some of the highlights of the studio’s history.

A:   I founded Zea Mays Printmaking in 2000.  Previously, I had been teaching printmaking at Whittier College, a small college in Southern California where they moved the print shop into the basement of an old gymnasium.  We had no ventilation and I hated the idea of introducing the toxic chemicals of traditional printmaking into that space.  This was in the late 1980s, early 90s, and there were several printmakers worldwide developing safer alternatives to traditional processes.  I contacted Keith Howard and Nik Semenoff, both in Canada at the time, and they generously gave me their formulas for alternative grounds.

I was able to set up the shop as a safer, “non-toxic” facility by teaching both non-chemical dependent printmaking techniques, and the newer acrylic etching processes.  This really appealed to the problem solver in me, and the seed of Zea Mays was planted.  I began to formulate the idea of a print studio dedicated to safer printmaking that would be a resource for artist/printmakers outside of the college setting.  Many of the artists I knew were either suffering from illnesses related to prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, or had left the medium completely to avoid the risks.  I became convinced that there was a need for a place that would test new “non-toxic” printmaking products and processes, catalogue that information, share it through workshops and create a space for artists to work.

In 1997 my husband, two children, dog and I moved from California to western Massachusetts.  We chose this area because of its geographic beauty, the rich cultural resources here, and the supportive arts community. I began writing the business plan for Zea Mays and raised money through private investors who believed in the mission of Zea Mays.  We opened the doors of our small studio in August 2000.  At that time we had one etching press, one work table, a small airbrush booth and little else.  During our first year of operation we offered 4 workshops.

I partnered with local arts organizations and a university extension program to promote the workshops.  The following year we offered 23 workshops and opened up the space for artists to work.  I offered private lessons, and presented workshops and demos at local schools.  In the subsequent years I developed relationships with the local colleges to set up an internship program so that college students could get credit for helping with our experimentation and programs.  We launched our first website, started our print archive and exhibition program.  I did many off-site workshops and lectures to promote the studio.

We have continued to grow each year since our inception.  In 2004 the opportunity arose to move into a larger studio space in the old mill building we occupy.  We doubled our space, which made it possible for more artists to access our studio and workshop.  I bought a second etching press.  We marked this special time in the growth of Zea Mays by publishing our first print portfolio, “The Nature of Things.”  I started to bring in guest artists to teach workshops.  We initiated a formal exhibition program, began contract printing and continued to do research into the latest developments in safer and “non-toxic” printmaking products.

As the studio thrived, we’ve added new equipment and programs.  In 2007 we enlarged our space by adding on the Editioning Annex. We currently have 4 presses in the main studio and one large etching press in the Annex.  Our workshops now draw participants from all of the USA and Canada.   We recently had a visiting artist from India spend a month studying at Zea Mays.  Our membership has grown every year.  We offer a variety of programs for our members in addition to use of the studio facilities, library and research.  These include “print practicums” which are group problem solving/technique trying events, gallery representation and access to all of our educational resources.

Q: “Zea Mays” is an unusual name for a print workshop. Would you care to tell us how it was chosen?

A:  Zea Mays is the botanical name for the plant sweet corn.  This plant is a hyper-accumulator, meaning it draws heavy metal toxins out of the soil through its roots.  It is used to clean up contaminated soil.  The toxins are drawn out through the plant, the plant is harvested, the metals can be reclaimed from the plant and the soil is returned to a healthy state.  I thought this was a beautiful metaphor for what I was trying to do at Zea Mays, restore printmaking to an art form that is safe for artists and healthier for the environment.

Q: Your programs seem very complete and well thought out, with something for everybody: printmakers, artists and craftspeople, teachers, students, novices, schools, clubs, museums and art centers… Doesn’t such an ambitious program require a lot of resources?  How do you manage it?

A: I work a lot!  Plus, our membership has an amazing spirit of cooperation.  We have 5 studio monitors who serve at technical support for our working artists.  They do this in exchange for membership and work 18 hours per month.  Our exhibition program, and our print practicums are assisted by volunteers.  I usually have 2-5 college interns per year who work on special projects.  I also have an assistant who works one day per week on all things internet (i.e. the newsletter and website).  I am very open to new ideas from our members, and if they are well connected to the mission of Zea Mays, we usually give them a try.  We do most of this on a shoestring of a budget, with an immense amount of creativity!

Q: Your faculty list is equally impressive, long and with some recognizable names in printmaking. How did you achieve that?

A: I take great pride in our faculty.  It’s very important to me that our workshops are taught by people who are both experts in their field and good teachers.  I’m so fortunate that Zea Mays is situated in an area rich in art and artists.  We don’t have to throw the net too far to catch great guest artists.  Barry Moser lives near by and I asked him if he would like to teach here and he agreed.  We had a fantastic first workshop and he’s been back every year since.  I met Carol Wax at a Southern Graphics Council Conference and invited her to come teach – again, she’s so excellent and has been back annually.

Member artists who have perfected a technique and devoted years to working in a particular medium teach some of our workshops.  They too share that ineffable mix of artistic talent and teaching skill.  I think the guest artists keep coming back because we treat them well and draw wonderful students.

Q: The emphasis at Zea Mays seems to be on research and education. How did that come about? How does it work?

A: Our mission is to find safer and non-toxic alternatives to traditionally toxic printmaking processes and to share these finds with other artists.  But it’s not enough to just find an alternative.  The substituted process has to produce results of equal or greater quality to really be viable.  This takes a lot of trail and error.  We try to experiment with all of the latest developments in the field (grounds, mordants, inks, processes).  The experimentation usually begins with a student intern, under my direction.  We’ll develop a plan and the student will execute the experiments.  We’ll evaluate them together. We keep very detailed records of the experiments.  When we have success, we’ll bring in interested member artists who want to try it out and have a print “practicum”.  This is a work session where several artists will try something out and troubleshoot through problems and share information.  Once we’ve worked with a product or process enough to master it, we’ll incorporate it into our workshop schedule and share it with our wider audience.

Q: Is Zea Mays public or private? How is it financed?  Do you have any secrets for making it through the current economic crisis?

A:  Zea Mays Printmaking is private.  I put a lot of thought into the decision to begin the studio as a for-profit business.  I wrote a business plan, got investors (who have shares in the business) and incorporated.  The business ran in the red for the first 4 years, and has been in the black since then.  All of our profits go back into the growth of the studio, with the blessing of our investors who believe strongly in the mission of Zea Mays.  We’ve also been so fortunate to have received monetary support  from our donors when we moved into our larger studio, and when we opened the editioning annex.

Our current income comes from workshop fees, memberships, lectures and demos and print sales.  I believe we have grown and will continue to survive difficult economic times because we provide a valuable service and a unique place for our members, because we have integrity, because we are creative in our programming and because we live within our means.

Q: How many participants do you have in your Open Studio program? Do they have 24-hour access?

A:  We currently have 55 members.  About 25 of them are here on a regular basis.  The others drop in occasionally.  We have many levels of membership, from low-use to high.  We do not offer 24-hour access, but we try to be open enough hours to accommodate our members’ studio needs and our workshops. There is always a monitor present during open studio hours.

Q: You’re close to Smith College in Northampton. Is there any association with them?

A: Oh yes.  We have a wonderful relationship with Smith.  I am very fond of the printmaking faculty and students there and I’ve done demos for them.  In addition they loaned us a plate exposure unit for the first four years of our existence.  They send us many of our interns.  The Art Museum at Smith College acquired our portfolio, “The Nature of Things, ” with an introduction written by their curator of prints Aprile Gallant.  We’re currently planning a program for their members on print collecting. The director of the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Martin Antonetti,juried one of our Artists’ Books exhibitions and has hosted us in the rare book room as part of a workshop.  I am thrilled to have a fantastic working relationship with Smith College.  We are so lucky to have five colleges in this valley.  We’ve also done a variety of collaborations with the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College.

Q: Both Florence and Northampton seem to be important centers of art and culture. Do you think this represents an advantage for Zea Mays?

A:   Definitely!  The Pioneer Valley is home to many artists and is an extremely arts-friendly region. The arts organizations are very supportive of one another and try to collaborate as much as possible.  Our community prides itself on its cultural economy. People who come to our workshops from out of town always comment on the rich variety of art, music, theatre and good food available in our town.

Q: Your studio looks delicious in the photograph, large, airy, well-lit and in an evocative 19th-century building. How did you happen to find it, or did it find you?

A:  This part of New England is full of old mill buildings whose factories have closed.  There is a strong movement for re-use in this area.  I know of at least five old mills that now house artist studios and upstart companies.  I found the studio when I first started the business plan.  The Arts and Industry Building was considered one of the creative hubs of the region.  I wanted Zea Mays to be in the heart of it.

Q: Does the studio have its own exhibition space or does it collaborate with local galleries?

A:  Both.  We have a small exhibition space at the entrance to the studio and we show 6-8 exhibitions per year in our space.  We exhibit members’ work and have juried and invitational exhibitions in our gallery.  We also have a flat file of over 300 prints by member artists.  We invite curators to pull shows out of the flat file and so far we’ve had two gallery exhibitions from the flat file at regional galleries.  Our portfolio, The Nature of Things, has been exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art (Maine) and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park (Lincoln, MA).  We’ve done group shows at local galleries.  Part of our mission is to get our work out into the world, we’re always looking for opportunities to show our members’ work.

Q: Have you done any exchanges of artists or personnel with other studios inside or outside of the U.S.? If so, will you be doing more? What benefits do you see in exchange programs?

A:   We’ve had artists come from different parts of the US, Canada and India to do self-designed residencies at the studio.  We don’t have a formal artist residency program, but we’re very happy to work with artists to design a program for them.  It’s so wonderful to have artists from other countries here – it widens our perspective and understanding of the world, cultures and art.  Most artists come to Zea Mays because they want to learn our techniques.  We haven’t sent our artists out yet, because there aren’t too many “green” studios out there, and that’s important to the majority of our artists.  But I hope that will change, and I’m very interested in doing exchanges with international “green” studios.  I believe there is always something new to learn and new people to meet.

Q: Does your studio generate significant sales for your artists? How do you go about it?

A:  We generate modest sales for our artists.  Our studio has just begun to really promote our artists’ work.  We inaugurated the Flat File Project last spring and it’s been gaining recognition as a source of prints for collectors. We keep over 300 prints in the flat file. Collectors and curators can come by and look through the catalogue and then select prints they want to see up-close and personal.  It’s a great sales tool.  I hope to do much more in the near future to sell our artists’ work.

Q: Do you perceive “giclee” reproductions sold as “fine-art prints” as a threat to authentic printmaking? Please give us your take on this issue.

A:  I believe that marketing giclee prints as editioned prints is deceptive and doesn’t serve the collector, the gallery or the artist.  Hand pulled prints are unique and have a distinct place in the art market. Giclee reproductions have their own place, but should be sold as very fine digital reproductions, not as original works of art.  I think the giclee market has co-opted the language of the hand pulled print intentionally as a marketing strategy.  Savvy collectors know the difference, but the general public does not.  I think it’s imperative to educate the consumer.

Q: What about digital prints, which are not reproductions? Do they fit into your printmaking scheme?

A:  Oh yes.  Digital prints are another tool in the artist’s box.  We did a wonderful contract project with Scott Prior, a contemporary painter.  We made digital prints of color fields from his paintings.  He then did a pencil drawing on mylar, which we made into a photopolymer intaglio plate, inked that up in black and printed it on top of the digital color fields.  The results are beautiful.  We ended up doing nine editions for him using that process.  I think it’s important to embrace new technology and put it into the hands of artists!

Q: If you were to found another print studio, how would you do it differently?

A:  I don’t think I would do too much differently.  Perhaps I’d go into it with a little more business savvy.  When I founded Zea Mays I knew very little about business, having been trained as an artist.  I learned so much through doing, and taking advantage of all the help I could get.  I had to learn basic bookkeeping, and all kinds of tax stuff, and software programs, etc.  But I’ve grown this business organically and intuitively, and I think I would do that again.

Q: What has been your greatest satisfaction with Zea Mays?

A: The community of artists I get to work with.  It’s a true blessing to be in the midst of creative people every day.  I am so lucky to witness the creative process as a part of my work.  Running Zea Mays has also made it possible for my own art-making and living-making to overlap significantly.  I am also gratified to be able to something I perceive as good in the world.  This brings me great satisfaction.

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sweetcornContact:

Zea Mays Printmaking
Liz Chalfin , Director
221 Pine Street, Studio 320
Florence, MA 01062

(413) 584-1783
liz@zeamaysprintmaking.com

www.zeamaysprintmaking.com

Written by Michael Booth

November 13, 2008 at 12:31 am

6 Responses

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  1. Hello,
    I was really interestead in reading the interview above with Liz Chaflin.
    I live and work in Italy (Tuscany) and wish there was such a great place as the Zea Mays printmaking studios.
    If I visit the” New Obama States”in the fall I would love to visit the studios.
    All my best congratulations.
    yurs sincerely,
    Walter Sarfatti

    walter Sarfatti

    January 20, 2009 at 11:32 am

  2. Hi!

    I’m a student and artist at Smith, in my last semester and have completed a printmaking class here- which was a lot of fun. I am VERY interested in the work you do with less toxic inks etc (what I was using was really bad), and am wondering if you have any sort of work or internship possibilities? Perhaps this summer? I don’t know what I have in mind specifically besides the fact that I am exited about learning new techniques and have a lot of energy for making prints and being part of the process!

    Thanks a lot!
    Olivia

    Olivia Levins Holden

    February 16, 2009 at 2:18 am

  3. Hi Sir,

    I have completed my Diploma in Printing Technology from Bangalore University INDIA. now i am working in United Arab Emirates with an Advertising company.
    Now i am planning to do apprentice pls help me to find apprentice for me
    Thanks and regards,
    Naveen

    NAVEENKUMAR

    September 28, 2009 at 12:26 pm

  4. hi!
    i mr. viraj naik a printmaker practicing for a past decade. i will be happy to join the artist studio program for a period of a month. please direct me to the proceeding to join.
    thanking you,
    faithfully yours,
    viraj naik
    vasco da gama, goa, india

    viraj naik

    March 6, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  5. Looking for artists

    We are a full time tattoo studio with a small gallery in front. We participate in the monthly art walk here in Northampton and are looking for local artists to exhibit in the coming months. Please contact me if there is any one interested.

    Thanks,
    Kerri
    kerri.livingartstudio@gmail.com

    Kerri

    May 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

  6. **email correction -sorry

    Kerri

    May 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm


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