Monday, August 12, 2013

A Visit With Printmaker and Arts Activist Cecilia Lieder

In front some of her woodcut prints at North Shore Bank.
Saturday afternoon I found a space of time to visit the Panorama opening for the Northern Printmakers Alliance. With the exception of Cele here at top, the images on this page are from that exhibition.

Cecilia Lieder’s East Hillside residence not only houses her studio but is also home for the Northern Prints Gallery. An artist printmaker for over 35 years, her work is well-known in the region as well as the Boston area where she lived for ten years. Her most recent awards are the Arrowhead Regional Arts Commission George Morrison Artist Award for lifetime achievement in the arts (2007) and in 2006, the Depot Foundation Artist Award for art and arts activism. Her career has demonstrated her commitment to making a difference in cultural awareness in northern Minnesota.

EN: Why are you so passionate about printmaking and how did this passion develop in you?
Cecilia Lieder: That’s a huge question! It would have to start at about 9 months old – when my calling as an artist began to exhibit itself by an extraordinarily keen absorption in visual beauty in all its forms – particularly color and shape. I developed quickly – by 18 months old I had my own chalkboard and other art supplies, and was drawing every day, as well as taking great pleasure in the skill of my hands. My family had already recognized my talent. I took art-making supplies for granted – though where my parents found the means for it – with seven children and not much income – I can’t guess.

Heart of a Peony: Red by Lieder
My engrossment in beauty, color, form, drawing and craftsmanship has persisted and dominates my work to this day. As it happens, these are qualities that nearly every printmaker strongly exhibits, so unknowingly, I had already begun evolving into a printmaker. My formal education in art began when I was 16, with my first art class in high school. The initial project was relief printing, where all my art skills suddenly drew together – and that was it. I recognized it when I found it. It called me.

EN: How was the Northern Printmakers Alliance formed?
Woodcut by Lieder titled "She"
CL: After I directed the “Perspectives on the Hillside” grass roots art exhibit, Joel Cooper – whose wife Deborah had been part of the Perspectives show at Sacred Heart – approached me and suggested that I organize something for printmakers. I thought it was an excellent idea, so I called the printmakers I knew and invited them to come and talk about it. Six of us met at my dining room table on January 15, 1999, and laid out a plan for a printmaking group. We decided on the name – Northern Printmakers Alliance – because we felt the need to support each other in a city where there was very little understanding of original prints at that time.

We had no trouble coming up with a mission statement: Jon Hinkel was adamant about - and all of us were in agreement with – its emphasis on the traditional printmaking arts (though we’ve always included digital prints and other experimental media as well) and on educating our region about printmaking. By the time of our first group show six months later, we had tripled our membership and received an ARAC Project Grant for promoting the group’s aims. The opening attendance was one of the largest turnouts Lizzards had ever had at that time. We were given amazing community support and enthusiasm from the start – from Bob DeArmond at ARAC, John Steffl at the DAI, Donna Ekberg at Lizzards, Joan Farnam at the newspapers, and from the community at large – which really helped us grow. The Northern Prints Gallery developed naturally out of this impetus, as a place to give printmaking a constant public presence in the region.

Paper cutout, mixed media story by Susan Pagnucci
EN: Some of the work in your last show came from all over the country. Is your gallery connected to a larger group of print makers? In what way, and how did that come about?
CL: This show was our first “national call” – but printmakers are still a relatively small community in the arts, so there is a general thread of connectedness. We tend to seek each other out.

EN: When did printmakers begin to be taken seriously as artists? How did this come about?
CL: It’s true that for many centuries printmaking was primarily a utilitarian art form – serving the need for illustration and artwork reproduction, as well as commercial and publishing purposes. However, when I look at the incredible skill and sophistication involved in much of that work (even ‘primitive’ forms of it) I have to conclude that printmaking had already surreptitiously evolved into a fine art form long before it was widely recognized as such. Though the transformation was gradual, even from the beginning its practitioners had all the tendencies, talents and creativity of those we now call fine artists. It became fine art when they began to (openly) use it as a personal expressive tool, and the art world took notice.

The invention of photography also did a great deal to free printmakers. The crafts movement in the early 20th century – with its revival of respect for the crafts as fine art also contributed. By mid-century, the present day proliferation of printmaking in the United States had begun – one of its first centers was in the Midwest: Chicago. This movement is still gathering steam and incorporating new media and practitioners at the present time.
The show provided a true panoramic view of the possibilities of printmaking.

EN: You have been making art for a very long time. How has your work and vision evolved over the years?
"Giraffe" by Mary Bruno
CL: I’ve been educated in many other art forms since I discovered printmaking, but it’s still my native place in the arts – along with drawing. It uses all my proclivities and skills, and presents a constantly exciting challenge. So I would say that one development in terms of my work has been in a significant refinement of my skills – beginning with basics – line and craft– and progressing to development in form, composition, etc, as well as the practice of creativity, itself. For the past decade or more, it has been centered on a joyful exploration of color. In terms of vision, my work in art has consistently mirrored my personal spiritual/psychological development, as it does with all artists. I have been conscious of art as a spiritual journey for many decades – both in the interweaving comprehension it mirrors for the artist-maker, and in becoming an actual vehicle of the growth itself. These two aspects – the making and the vision – are so intertwined as to be inextricable and can only approximately be spoken of as distinct entities. The artist-maker must develop apace with the artist as person (and vice versa) – one’s development demands it. I find that subject matter has very little to do with this – though it is, of course, the expressive means (just as wood is necessary to make a woodcut). Subject matter is simply a metaphor. All visual artists are essentially working with the same elements of art… regardless of their subjects.

My early work was symbolist, abstract, and surrealistic – in that order. A crisis came in my life during which it seemed imperative to me that I ground my vision more in “reality” – to learn the truths that the natural world had to teach me. There was a need to be more connected with my outer environment and to integrate it more fully with my inner life. This subject matter has continued to engross me (at ever deeper and differing levels) for nearly thirty-five years. Though I can see hints of new directions appearing, most of the work that the public identifies with me, comes from this period. All the while, the basic foundation – the mystery and delight of what and how the eye reveals life – remains a constant.

EN: My only regret is that I couldn't stay longer.... and while I had the chance I should have taken time to meet more of the artists.

For more information on the Northern Prints Gallery visit


My Inner Chick said...

Great interview.

Cecilia and I collaborated a few years ago w/ art and poetry.

It was a great experience!

Very talented woman.

ENNYMAN said...

I'm sure it was. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note.

ENNYMAN said...

And yes, she is.