Celebrating the Women of Flatbed Press at PrintAustin 2019
Elisabet Ney Museum gives Austin's world-class press its historic due
Getting kicked out of your home is a helluva way to celebrate your 30th birthday. But hey, New Austin can't always be bothered with how many decades of cultural contributions you've made – not when there is land to be sold and condos to be built. So just as Flatbed Press hits the big 3-0 in 2019, it's being ushered out of its headquarters for the past 20 of those 30 years.
Well, at least some of Been-Here-Awhile Austin still has an appreciation for an arts institution's gifts to the city and has cooked up a cheerier way to mark this one's milestone anniversary. In the same month that Flatbed is preparing to vacate the large, renovated warehouse at 2832 E. MLK Jr., the Elisabet Ney Museum is hosting a commemorative look at art made by women at Flatbed. In a sense, the timing couldn't be better: With "Women of Flatbed: A Retrospective" opening in the midst of PrintAustin, the monthlong citywide salute to printmaking that kicks off each year (see "PrintAustin 2019"), the exhibition and the press it recognizes will receive a bit more attention than it might ordinarily. And the setting is as ideal as it gets: What space in this city is more closely identified with the achievements of a female artist than the museum honoring Ney, the Mother of All Art in Our Town?
The idea for the Flatbed show came from the Ney's museum site coordinator, Oliver Franklin, who pulled fellow Ney staffer Lindsay Barras in on the project, and they teamed with Flatbed Associate Director Annalise Gratovich and Preparator Mike Brimberry to review and select the works. Their aim was to show both the wide variety of art created through the years and the evolution of participation by women. "After all, there were only a couple of women working with Flatbed back in its early days, compared to nearly half of the printers today," says Franklin.
Flatbed owner-director and Austin Arts Hall of Famer Katherine Brimberry confirms the dearth of female artists at the press during its first years in the Warehouse District on Third Street. First came San Antonio artist Bettie Ward, who collaborated with Mark L. Smith, Flatbed co-founder and Brimberry's business partner at the time, on a series of monotypes in the summer of 1990. The next year, Brimberry worked with a female artist for the first time when former gallery owner and Chronicle Arts writer Rebecca Cohen sponsored a project with Sydney Yeager at Flatbed. "We created a suite of small etchings, two of which we will show in this exhibition," says Brimberry. "Julie Speed created her first print, a photogravure, with Byron Brauchli, at Flatbed that summer of 1991. Shortly afterward, in the fall, I collaborated with Melissa Miller. We created the etching Water Spirits for the Fort Worth Modern's Centennial Print Series. We worked together in 1991-92, and the print was published in 1992. Melissa was well-known by then and the Modern had invited her to be one of 19 artists making editions of prints for the museum. Of the 19 artists, there were only three female artists chosen: Melissa Miller, Julie Bozzi, and Nancy Graves. I think Modern's selection of artists is a good snapshot of the art world in general at the time. After Melissa, while we were at the first location on Third Street, we worked with Sandria Hu, Celia Muñoz, Beverly Penn, Lilian Garcia-Roig, Ann Conner, Mary Vernon, and Donna Howell-Sickles. Since moving to MLK, we have worked with many more artists, and at least 50% are female. It is also interesting that both of our master printers are female. Linda Ridgway, Suzi Davidoff, Joan Winter, Sharon Kopriva, Cynthia Camblin, Margo Sawyer, Ann Stautberg, Mary McCleary, Liliana Porter, Katie van Scherpenberg, Annalise Gratovich, Alice Leora Briggs, Judy Youngblood, as well as most of the artists we had worked with at the Third Street location are women we published at MLK."
"Women of Flatbed: A Retrospective" may represent a closing of sorts, but it's definitely not an ending. Brimberry has secured a new home for Flatbed in Southeast Austin: suite 190 at 3701 Drossett. "We are in the process now of getting contractors to bid to build out the studio and gallery space there," she says. "The new Flatbed will have a dedicated gallery space, a community studio space for artist printmakers, and our professional studio. We will also have one large studio to lease and hope to find a compatible gallery or arts-related business to occupy that space. We hope to move in April, but this will depend on the contractor's progress." As they prep for the eventual move, Brimberry and crew will be looking to lighten their load through the Flatbed Goes South Moving Show and Sale. More than 250 works from Flatbed's framed inventory will be displayed salon-style and available for purchase. It may turn out that the best way you can help Flatbed celebrate turning 30 is to buy a present for yourself.
“Women of Flatbed: A Retrospective” runs Jan. 17-April 28 at the Elisabet Ney Museum, 304 E. 44th. An artists’ talk will take place Sat., Jan. 26, 2pm, at the museum. For more information, visit www.elisabetneymuseum.org.