reThink INK

By Bridgit Brown

When I used to think of ink, I thought about my favorite fountain pen, a sleek and handy tool that Maya Angelou supposedly designed. I thought about that black and sticky stuff that helps me etch my words onto a piece of paper. Then I checked out reThink INK and it literally expanded my thinking about inking.

This exhibit takes ink well beyond to page to include mono printing, lithography, wood cut, silk screening, letterpress, and all other sorts of ink printing. On display in the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library are over 150 traditional and cutting-edge prints created at the 25-year-old Mixit Print Studios in Somerville. Owned and operated by Jane Goldman, Catherine Kernan, and Randy Garber, Mixit rents out space and equipment to etchers, lithographers, woodcutters, and printmakers.

Heddi Siebel, a veteran artist of Mixit, created the large-scale banners hanging by ropes from the columns in the Changing Exhibits Room at the BPL. A trained lithographer and etcher, Siebel’s installation has a unique way of telling the story of the Baldwin-Zieglar polar expedition that took place in 1903. Over 30 explorers set out for the North Pole but their ship was crushed and it sank, leaving the crew stranded for two years on the Franz Josef Archipelago located near the North Pole. Zieglar’s maternal grandfather was a member of that crew.

“I was really interested in the psychology of the adventure, and I was trying to focus on my grandfather’s feelings about what happened, what could have happened, and what he missed while he was gone,” said Siebel.

The banners have prints of journal entries, a spoon, a dog’s paw, a boot print, maps and many other objects that belonged to the artist and photographer Anthony Fiala, who commanded the expedition. The banners also have projections of archival footage taken by Fiala.
“When I read Fiala’s book about the adventure, I discovered that he saw the project as a success, despite what I heard about it from my mother. Fiala also captured the first motion picture footage of the polar arctic, and I’m trying to show how the expedition succeeded based on its artistic outcome because it’s really about art and the exploration process.”

Mixit user and Somerville printmaker Debra Olin’s “Free Falling” is a 13-foot monoprint reflecting the pull of gravity on a woman’s body. Olin said she wrapped herself in saran wrap and laid on a bed of glue, then pressed her body onto foam and sprinkled the gluey impressions with the chocolaty-colored grit that we see in many of her pieces. Olin, whose work is also part of the BPL’s permanent print collection, works with paper, fabric, and ink plexi glass plates.

“During the art making process,” said Olin, “there are three components that I try to balance and connect; the aesthetic, the technical and the conceptual. In addition to these three elements there is a collaboration with the press.”

Mixit houses a cast iron press imported from France. Artists that use the studios are encouraged to use non-toxic alternatives, like soy-based solvents and water-based inks. Artists praise Mixit for its lively and innovative atmosphere, which has helped to produce the works selected for reThink INK.

“Sixty-six artists contributed prints to the 25th anniversary portfolio,” said Karen Shafts, Assistant Keeper of Prints at the BPL. Shafts also juried the selection process. “The prints,” she said, “show the diversity of artistic vision and approach to media characteristic of the Mixit Community.”

Theories of sound and dimensions are explored in “Reverberations,” an installation by Mixit partner Randy Garber. The work combines copper pipes, plates, and paper. Instead of using flat plates, Garber etched glyphs and words onto the round pipes. Instead of showing prints of the etchings, she transformed the pipes into two-dimensional shapes that speak volumes about how we perceive and receive sound.

“My work is about trying to visualize the space between silence and sound because I’m hearing impaired,” said Garber.
“I’m very interested in how communication gets interpreted and misinterpreted. I think that’s true for anybody, whether they are hearing impaired or not. What they hear is not always what the other person heard. So the decoding and encoding is always up for grabs.”

reThink INK highlights the BPL's longtime support of Boston's printmaking community. Since the 1940s, the library has grown its print catalogue to include over 100,000 ink prints. Of the works represented in reThink INK, sixty-six small prints will go into the library's permanent catalogue, notably one of the nation’s largest collections of public prints.

reThink INK: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio is on display at the Boston Lublic Library in the Johnson Lobby, the Changing Exhibits Gallery, and the Wiggin Gallery through July 31, 2012. For detailed gallery hours, visit

Photo credit:  Bridgit Brown
Artist: Randy Garber, Reverberations


About the Author
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.


Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor