In 2011 Melanie Mowinski, an assistant professor of art at MCLA, took something that she loves and found a very creative way to share it with the community and use it as a teaching tool with her students.
At first her "PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project," a part of the DownStreet Art initiative this past summer, was intended to be a temporary installation, but the endeavor was so popular that Mowinski recently signed a lease to keep it open at least until November 2012.
In addition, this hybrid gallery, teaching and studio space earned Mowinski this year's MCLA "Creative Projects Award." The award supports those whose scholarship is expressed wholly or in part in creative fields and disciplines, including the fine, performing and applied arts.
According to Mowinski, the gallery has been successful "on pretty much every level."
"I wasn't sure how it was going to work, but the thing that's been so great has been the feedback from the public - from the general community, from my students, from visitors, from tourists," Mowinski said. "Everybody loves coming in and seeing the press in action and coming away with something."
The centerpiece of the PRESS gallery is an 1,800-pound Vandercook proof press, founded in 1909 by Chicago newspaperman Robert Vandercook. With the press, Mowinski brought back the private practice of the pressperson, creating a performance of printmaking. The enterprise reminds older art enthusiasts of past processes and introduces another way of making multiple prints to a generation that's used to inkjets and lasers.
This public art project focuses on the fine art aspects of the printing craft by creating prints using relief, type, polymer plates and experimental techniques like pressure printing.
"I feel this need to do things for my community and to use art to try to bring people together or to create some sense of community," Mowinski said. "I feel like I can't keep something like this to myself. It's something that I have to share with other people."
In addition to being an art space the public enjoys, Mowinski uses the gallery to teach as students in her design and poetry classes completed projects there this past fall.
"PRESS would not happen without MCLA students. MCLA students - as interns and volunteers - are really the reason PRESS has been able to function. I have a really solid group of students who are falling in love with that machine and with the space. They are willing to do what it takes to help this space stay alive," Mowinski said. "I am really grateful to those students. I could not do it without them."
Plans for 2012 include a printing marathon, which is set for mid-January. In March, the gallery will be part of the Berkshire Women's Writers Festival. This summer, Mowinski plans to teach an experimental letterpress class exclusively in the space.
And, when DownStreet Art starts up again in June, the first show to be exhibited in the PRESS gallery will feature the work of Barry Steinlieb, the man who gave Mowinski the press. The show also will include work by Julio Grande.