Section: Arts

Out with the new, in the with the old for curious artists

Out with the new, in the with the old for curious artists

by Bailey Blaker

Kenyon is ranked seventh on Huffington Post’s “Top 10 Most Hipster Colleges” list. This may be due to the various fashion choices that are made on Middle Path, the abundance of vinyl records cluttering up dorm rooms or the many niche art groups present across campus. 

“There does seem to be a kind of a hipster-indie vibe at Kenyon,” Read Baldwin, associate professor of art, said. “I think that does have a lot of overlap with an interest in old media.”

Gregory Spaid, professor of art, teaches an introductory black-and-white photography course and takes old media techniques combined with digital processes to engage with his students.

Spaid said finding the balance between newer technology and old techniques can be challenging, but that when executed correctly, it can lead to something incredible.

“I’m interested in how you can take older techniques and combine them with a very contemporary sensibility, and come up with something new and interesting that way,” Spaid said.

At a time when taking a photo can be as simple as whipping out a smartphone, these analog processes appear more and more appealing to some students. Spaid has observed an increase in student interest in black-and-white photography over the last five years.

“One of the things that I find fascinating is how this generation of digital natives may no longer see it as an adventure to learn how to use digital technology,” Spaid said. “But they now see it as an adventure to learn things like the printing press.”

Kenyon got a taste of printing in the 1960s with the formation of the Pot Hanger Press, a group of students who produced books and other materials on the school’s Chandler and Price press.

Last year marked a return of the campus’s printing press in Bexley Hall. Ellen Sheffield, visiting instructor of art, was a main advocate for using the press. Her efforts resulted in the formation of the KR Associate 1939 Letterpress print shop, a workshop for Kenyon Review associates that focuses on the art of printing.

Sheffield said the tactile aspect of printmaking attracts the most students to the workshop.

“You’re actually kissing the paper, sometimes biting into the paper to make an impression with your plate,” Sheffield said.

The hands-on nature of this type of art can be quite alluring.

Baldwin was involved in printing during his time as a student at Kenyon. He loved the process so much that he purchased a mint-condition 1939 Chandler and Price printing press after he graduated in 1984. Weighing over 1,000 pounds, Baldwin’s press accompanied him to three different homes before he finally decided to sell it.

“There’s such a sort of sensual connection to the material I think that happens in all of these processes,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin uses a similar approach in both his drawing and printmaking classes. Printmaking is different from using a printing press because it involves hand-carving linoleum stamps to imprint onto paper, instead of using the machine to make prints.

In both classes, Baldwin tries to take his students out of their technological comfort zones and into something more material.

“We’re so absorbed in digital culture all the time that doing something with our hands is — I just think there’s this fundamental human instinct and satisfaction that comes from that,” Baldwin said.

According to Baldwin, sustained interest in these practices is key to their future at Kenyon. He said debate between faculty and administrators about whether to include spaces like Spaid’s dark room occured when Horvitz Hall was being constructed.

“It’s funny to me in a way, because you wouldn’t ask the English department if, you know, ‘Do you really wanna keep teaching those 19th-century novels?’” Baldwin said. “‘Do you have to read Shakespeare?’”

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