Professor Features

Recurrent Theme Flows Through Art Prof’s Sabbatical

Above, Melanie Mowinski, on a Mississippi Delta levee. Below, (top) the book she taught students to make during her artist residency in Venice, and (bottom) at her Venice art show opening.

As associate professor of art Melanie Mowinski continues her sabbatical this academic year, a recurring theme – from the waters of Venice, Italy, to the Mississippi Delta and the Missouri River – has flowed throughout her leave in some very unexpected, but meaningful, ways.

In January, she headed to Italy for six weeks at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica for an international print residency, where she was awarded a visiting artist fellowship for her letterpress and book art skills. The Scuola (school), located in the heart of Venice, is equipped for all printmaking methods, including lithography, letterpress, serigraphy, intaglio and photo-mechanical processes.

Mowinski is the founder of PRESS: LetterPRESS as a Public Art Project gallery, which first was established on Main Street in North Adams after she obtained a Vandercook Universal III letterpress printer in March 2010, and wished to share it with MCLA students and the greater community. The letterpress now is housed on campus in Bowman Hall.

“I was always captivated by the letterpress,” she said. “Then, once I got the machine, I was able to really develop that skill.”

In Venice, through the help of a translator, Mowinski introduced a letterpress technique to the Italian students that was new to them. During the two-part class, they learned the printmaking process, and then took the prints they created and made a book, using the “storage book structure” method, in what turned out to be a very popular class: Its enrollment went well beyond the Scuola’s expectations.

Mowinski also presented an exhibition of her artwork while she was in Venice, which included several of her artist books, some prints, and also an installation. She will recreate part of this show in a few months, at a solo exhibition of her work in MCLA Gallery 51. This exhibition – to open on July 28 – will be based upon her sabbatical travels and experiences.

During her time in Venice, Mowinski was focused on water, waves, canals and the way she moved through the city. She next traveled to the Mississippi Delta where she found herself exploring the region’s levees.
“I’m really interested in how humans move through the world and how humans move the earth to move through the world,” Mowinski said.

Venice exhibit

After her Mississippi experience, she headed to the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, in Nebraska City, Neb., which is bordered by the Missouri River, where she presently is enjoying a month-long residency.

“I’m continuing my exploration of water and humans, as well as that interaction between the two,” Mowinski said. “That captivates me.”

Upon her return to MCLA, Mowinski’s students also will benefit from her experiences as she encourages them to follow their artistic “hunches.”

“You never know where your inspiration is going to come from,” Mowinski said. “You always need to be open to it. Something starts to tickle us, and we like it. It’s interesting, but we shut it down. What would happen if you really let that evolve?”

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