bonus article | mirabo Press
Written by Miranda K. Metcalf | Published 24 April 2019
“We want to encourage those outside the art community to learn about printmaking – we’re each enamored by the democratic nature of the process and the history of social activism inherent in it, and Buffalo is a city that loves its history.”
-Co-Founders of Mirabo Press
The impulse to create is something that runs deep in all of us makers, but not just to create, also to build and to grow. We take on projects that don’t pay. We work long hours when others are catching up on Game of Thrones. We record podcasts, start screenprint biennials, film teaching videos, and undertake group crit sessions. Yet probably the number one dream shared most printmakers is to start their own studio. We look at Crownpoint, Editions Copenhagen, Chiang Mai Art on Paper, Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, or Tamarind and say, “I want to go to there.” It’s the dream, to make a life that is a print life through and through, and to make a living by eating, breathing, and sleeping printmaking. It’s one that Tim and I share, but at times looking at those big names it can seem daunting. Of course, I know that Kathan Brown started Crownpoint in 1962 with a typewriter and a hand crank etching press in her garage. But seeing her light-filled studio on Hawthorne Street around the corner from the San Francisco Art Museum makes it hard to imagine it really started out from such humble beginnings, and that can be overwhelming. It gives me this strange mix of excitement and envy. Envitement? It can seem so out of reach to those us with a dream and no savings account. So when I learned that a new studio was opening up in Buffalo, New York, I knew immediately I wanted to talk to the people behind it.
I have a deep fondness for Buffalo. My husband, Tim, is from Western New York, and before I pulled him away from its famously “beautiful” winters to the sunny shores of Sydney, he helped me fall in love with that area. Buffalo has moxie. There is a strong sense of self that permeates the city that I instantly loved. I am from Seattle, which I always thought of as the vanilla ice cream of cities. It’s not famous from much besides rain, Nirvana, and the major brand names based there thanks to no state income tax: Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Amazon… But brands do not a culture make and they are certainly not a sense of community. Buffalo is different, it has roots and ghosts of the American Dream. The city is dotted with beautiful, old brick factories, many now empty but standing as monuments to a time when showing up every day and working hard meant that you could have a living wage, a pension, a union, healthcare, and the gift of dreaming bigger for your children. All which, along with the Rust Belt itself, suffered devastating declines in the latter half of the twentieth century. No matter what anyone says, Buffalo, has endured with a pluckiness summed up in a T-shirt I purchased from The Western New York Book Arts Center which simply reads “Buffalo hates you too.”
So who are these people starting a print studio is the city that makes my heart go pitter-patter?
Rachel Shelton is from Buffalo and came into her printmaking during her BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art and went on to receive her MFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition to printmaking, her practice includes bookmaking, drawing, enamelling, and sculpture.
Mizin Shin was born and raised in South Korea. She graduated from Hong-ik University with a B.F.A in Printmaking and received her M.F.A from University at Buffalo. She has been teaching at University at Buffalo since 2015, and also at Villa Maria College in Buffalo since 2017.
Bob Fleming is from Buffalo originally but has lived in Ithaca and Indiana. He has a BA from Cornell University and did post-graduate work at University at Buffalo in intaglio with Harvey Breverman. Bob also worked as a lawyer for a number of years while maintaining his art practice which includes painting, printmaking and hybrid media.
The three met at University at Buffalo and they describe coming together to found Mirabo as a natural progression. The name, if you haven’t caught on yet, is the first two letters of their first names. Pretty dang cute if you ask me. With such strong connections to Buffalo, they wanted to create something for the city and its people that can bring in artists from around the world to their home.
Their building is a stunner. The 6800 square feet of old factory was originally used for creating speciality engines, and before you mourn the loss of another American manufacturer, the reason the building was up for sale was because the company had moved into a larger 90,000 square foot factory. Hashtag Buffalo rising, y’all. While the three artists had to do quite a bit of work on the building before they were able to bring in their printing equipment the building did come with some built-in assets. A giant spray booth and the cranes that run along tracks in the ceiling are ready and raring to help make the ambiguously large prints the founders are interested in creating. The three secured the building on the last business day of 2017, and it has since been equipped with a Takach etching press measuring 44 x 84 inches, a smaller press at 36 x 24 inches, and a one-arm screenprinting press. All in all, Mirabo is equipped for intaglio, relief, and screenprint, and they collaborate with another shop for digital work and letterpress. The studio was opened officially in August of 2018, making that an impressively quick 8 month gestation. It was a journey to get there, everything from issues relating to the building, to details like figuring out what exposure unit could fit through the relatively small doorway. This is why, they point out, it is a blessing to work with your friends. It makes any of the problems, big or small, easier to handle as a team.
In addition to the presses, Mirabo boasts an enameling kiln. While this offers the facility the ability to create copper and glass artwork, it will also provide an unusual way of canceling their plates. After an edition is completed, as long as the matrix fits in the kiln, they will be able to enamel the plate. This process will create a unique work of art with a layer of glass on top of the matrix meaning the image would still visible but unprintable.
As the dust from the grand unveiling starts to settle, the three can look towards how Mirabo will grow. It is a for-profit model offering workshops, brief residencies, contract printing, a variety of community programming, and, naturally, the co-founders are using the beautiful space to expand and create more ambitious work in their personal practices. They even have plans on the horizon to start publishing. The co-founders are keen for artists around the world to know that this building is one of their important assets. The space and the equipment all make it possible for visiting artists to do work that is pushing the boundaries of contemporary printmaking but also, perhaps even more importantly, the attitude and ambition of the founders supports this. Each of them loves the conceptual and practical traditions of printmaking, but they are keen to create hybrids and embrace new technologies. They are knowledgeable and experienced with preparing digital formats and working in non-conventional processes involving technologies like laser cutting and CNC machine carving for constructing print matrices. This gives them a wonderful balance of both traditional and experimental methods.
As Co-Founder Bob Fleming says:
“The intention is to help make exciting things happen that might not be possible somewhere else. It is important to emphasise that printmaking is not an archaic art method - it is evolving in dynamic and exciting ways. In some respects, to call Mirabo a print shop or a press is limiting... We will continue to invest in Mirabo so that, not only can editions of intaglio, relief or screen prints be made with us, but contemporary art projects that are print-based can be pursued at our facility. That is ambitious to be sure, but that is the intention.”
Between the facilities and the people it is not hard to imagine Mirabo quickly finding its place on the map as a residency and institution within which artists can stretch their comfort zones and really try new things with incredible support. Within the next few months they are hoping to produce their first edition with artists, both as samples of their work and as evidence that they can deliver. It will be the first productions on which their residency programs can grow, and with Toronto just an hour and a half away and New York City just a day trip I have no doubt there will be plenty of regional as well as national and international artists lining up.
They have already received a lot of love and support from the community, and they are excited for the opportunity to engage. As new as they are, they already have an event under their belt which brought in people from outside the art community for a fundraiser at the shop. They also have at least one thesis show for a SUNY Buffalo M.F.A. lined up, and are partnering with the Screenprint Biennial next year (see episode two).
I asked them if they could go back to the beginning, what advice would they give themselves:
Rachel – I would probably tell myself not to worry so much about every little thing, but honestly, I’m sure my answer to older me would be something like, “If I hadn’t worried, would older us be where we are?”
Mizin – I would advise myself to take more risks doing whatever I want. I was always concerned about failure, but it turns out taking risks and growing comfortable with failure has lead to many formative experiences.
Bob - Being by far the oldest of our team, it makes this an awkward question. I would say first and foremost that life is pretty short and one needs to do everything possible to find the time to make art or pursue what you want most to do in life. I had a very demanding day job for a long time - I don’t entirely regret that, but as I watch Rachel and Mizin try to struggle with making a living and making art, I can only say that artists should not put things off indefinitely.
What Rachel, Mizin, and Bob are creating is beyond “a space to watch” but is a space to be inspired by. The growth of our printmaking community, the (re)growth of cities like Buffalo, and the growth of Mirabo Press are all realties to revel in. One of the best parts of running pine|copper|lime is learning the back stories and motivations of the people who are building things. For me, hope means forward momentum. I can get lost in the feeling of excitement generated by the stories of bright futures my heart tells me. They ease some of the harsher realities of this world. Those are the stories I hear every day, which is why I love writing ones like this.