The author got his first exposure to an alternative history of printmaking
when he was an undergraduate student helper in the A/V labs. He provides his
account of where he began and where he’s going over the course of fifty years
in the arts and teaching.
Bill Ritchie, A/V lab, Central Washington University ca. 1964
Origins of STEHM art in the 21st Century
Printmaking is the ancestor of all technologies. Although Seattle was the end of the world of printmaking, for me it would be the starting place in my exploration of technology in humanities, science, technology, engineering and math—STEHM.
Technologies for humanities and art interested me beginning in my undergraduate years in college. In the early ‘sixties, technologies only meant photography and rudiments of analog recording and film for me as I was student employee in the campus audio-visual service.
Graduate school provided me with a solid grounding in traditional printmaking and a job in Seattle as an instructor at the University Of Washington. Not much had changed technically, but in my third year at the UW, I flipped.
The epiphany didn’t happen overnight. I spent months in European museums met a few old masters of printmaking; then I understood what was happening. Like the septuagenarians I met—those pioneers of creative printmaking—I had seen the beginnings of technology changing printmaking, printmakers and prints.
I returned to Seattle not only changed as an artist and teacher but also I was a father of two as well. I was energized, and I did not want to shut myself in the old printmaking world. Besides, if I was to help educate young artists who would be developing their careers for decades into the future, I had to do the right thing.
The old baggage of printmaking would not be enough to sustain emerging artists. I felt this more than I knew it. There was no crystal ball, but when I brought video into printmaking, the students saw in the boob tube something portentous. Their video art became prints, and their prints became installations, performance art and sometimes looped back to video.
Similar things happened when we had the university mainframe computers to play with. Next came a mini computer, then microcomputers started showing up in my classes. By that time, computer games were taking more of students’ time and attention; video alone could not compare to multimedia art.
Another survey abroad—this time circling the globe—convinced me the printmaking division had to change. The study of multimedia art could be grounded in traditional printmaking as part of a balanced, sustainable curriculum. The painters—overlords of printmaking—felt otherwise.
My thoughts had reached a different level, and the only way I could proceed was to go outside the institutionalized art world. I had to redirect my work owing to the old, rigid national standards. I had been just a short step from a vanguard place for UW printmaking.
I could not work in an institution without collegial leadership. I would neither lower my sights nor try to change the rules of their games. I would make my own games, and call my new world, Emeralda.
About the Author: Bill Ritchie plans that printmaking will be taught, researched, and practiced in a community of practice and blends traditional printmaking and new technologies. His press designs and videos are for printmakers globally while he builds local teams to develop the Northwest Print Center and Incubators.A world traveled art professor, a teacher of people of all ages, at eighteen Bill Ritchie took up printmaking the year he left his father's farm. At twenty-five he moved to Seattle to teach at the University of Washington. He is a visionary and innovator—considered by some to be a little edgy. As Seattle is a center of high-tech industries, he challenged students to expand hand printing and incorporate new technologies for education and design.
He extended university-level printmaking education though non-conforming to traditional standards. For over 50 years he exhibited in art exhibitions ranging from traditional visual arts, through electronic arts, to installations and performances. For nineteen years, the University supported his research and enabled him to travel around the world. He writes essays, fiction and screenplays for elucidation and pleasure, but is also included in books, newspapers, newsletters, radio interviews and TV features.
Educated in state universities in Washington and California, he was hired at age 25 to teach art at the University of Washington in Seattle, with emphasis on printmaking. He served as an adjunct professor at The Evergreen State University, University of Oregon, Highline and Shoreline Community Colleges. He extended printmaking to video and computer art. Believing that technologies would be helpful to future teaching cultural arts, he took early retirement at age 44 and started a studio for teaching, research, practice and services. He and his wife bought a gallery in 2008 for a permanent work and exhibition space.
For his visual arts, teaching, research and design he won 67 awards, fellowships, grants and prizes. Fifty-nine events included his participation in honors and his contributions. He had 29 solo shows and participated in 249 mixed visual art exhibitions worldwide with works being collected by 582 individuals and 61 public and corporate collections.
He provided for 113 events in public speaking, consulting and workshops on printmaking techniques and history, new technologies and cultural arts entrepreneurship, many with other artists and designers to develop art installations, computer-aided business models and design, manufacturing, marketing and sales of etching presses and printmaking toys.