I was invited to design the ephemera, write the essay, and plan all signage for this exhibition of artists who had in someway been a part of the Women’s Studio Workshop.
35 years of collaboration
Libby Clarke was an intern in 1997 and an Artist in Residence in 2000. She has taken part in various projects since, and returns to contribute the following essay on Women’s Studio Workshop.
I am only one of the hundreds of artists who have passed through WSW, and I must admit it holds a dear place in my heart. I was transformed by my time there, and in gratitude I hope I can accurately describe why and how this organization has been so important for so many of us former interns, artists, students and teachers. In preparing this essay, I spoke with several alumnae, conflating our stories to reveal the Workshop’s overarching and singular pattern of influence.
WSW was the product of organic collaboration, and continues to operate in that spirit to this day. Created in 1974 by four women artists seeking a supportive base from which to operate, the studio has gone through several permutations to reach its present state. These founders – Ann Kalmbach, Tatana Kellner, Anita Wetzel, and Barbara Leoff Burge – began the Workshop when they realized there were no readily available opportunities geared towards women artists. In one fell swoop, they created a working space for artists, a community framework and a cooperative, sharing ethos. 35 years later, the studio’s offerings include intaglio, paper making, letterpress, silkscreen and ceramic studios, as well as a full-fledged program of events for the public.
Starting out as an art collective, the founders created work together and sought chances to collaborate with the public directly. They created art and presented it in unconventional locations – bars, dance studios, libraries, or airport landing fields, as in 1979’s Flying Objects event. [photo: flying objects] Eventually the group realized they could better serve artists by directing their energies to more studio and exhibition centered programs. They curated traveling shows, presented lectures and films, and also began to publish artists’ books. One notable example of this was 4 x 4, the four-founder collaborative work from 1981. They partnered with other area organizations like the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Kingston Artists Group, the Oliveros Foundation, and the Woman’s Building. The organization matured during this time, refining its approach to project planning and fundraising, and procuring professional quality equipment. The Workshop continued to adapt to the needs of artists throughout this time, a quality that allowed it to continue to grow as others fell by the wayside.
With the 1983 move to the Binnewater Arts Center, the Workshop began to offer key residential programs: the Artist in Residence grants, the Summer Arts Institute, and the Intern Program. Other programs, Arts in Education and the community clay workshops, were created to continue the Workshop’s tradition of giving back to the people of Ulster County. With these in place, WSW finally came fully into its own as a dedicated artists workspace, focused on exhibiting and developing opportunities for women artists at all stages of their careers. Amidst all of this, WSW has also become the largest publisher of hand printed artists’ books in the country.
A SMALL STUDIO IN THE WOODS
I knew little of the Workshop’s history when I arrived in Rosendale as a summer intern in 1999. What I learned upon entering changed how I made art, how I saw myself as an artist, and how I felt an artist could contribute to her community. In spite of the mosquito bites and occasional hard labor, I left far better able to navigate art school and the first part of my burgeoning career. In speaking with others who also experienced this phenomenon, I pieced together an explication:
When a newcomer arrives at the Workshop, she is instantly counted as part of its community: she is included in the daily potluck lunches, asked for input on any projects that are afoot, and if available, she is asked to take on these projects. The implications of this inclusion are powerful: this place, these actions are all being taken almost entirely by women. The grants are given to women: literally, women are being paid to make art. Women are running the place, making repairs, making decisions, and building equipment. There is no fretting over whether women can do these things, they just are. Each person’s contribution is heard and discussed; even the newest intern is counted as an equal within the group. In short, women are coming together and working it out, and this stark efficacy is an enormous gift to all of us who pass through the Workshop. In this collaborative process, there are risks: mistakes or failure are always possible, after all. But once you enter the mix, you are no longer intimidated. You know you have support, and that each day is a chance to learn.
This alchemic process, so seemingly simple on the outside, transforms many of us who participate. Our notions and insecurities about being female in the art world (bolstered by experiences in art school or general society) are gently shattered as the studio’s underlying belief “We can” become each woman’s “I can and I have.” We leave the Workshop with a practical, unembellished empowerment, a quiet and enduring feminism. There is no applicable jargon, no battle cry and hew, only the confirmed knowledge that we are capable. This revelation is powerful and has far-reaching effects for many of us. We go home and build bits of equipment, we seek opportunities we would not have considered before, we reach out into techniques and fields we’d never thought to try.
The world has certainly changed during the 35 years of the Workshop’s existence; the fact this inclusivity still shocks newcomers poignantly proves the Workshop’s concentration on female artists remains valid.