An eclectic collection of prints from Missouri artists is on display at Missouri River Regional Library through December.
Artist Shelly Forbis gathered the 24 pieces through several printmaking exchanges she's hosted during the past decade.
"It's a lot of work. I've got to corral the artists," Forbis said. "But I love it. I love getting to talk with these artists, even if it's only through visual form. It's just an alternative way of communicating with each other."
A printmaking exchange is an opportunity for artists to swap creations based on the same themes.
As an exchange host, Forbis creates a theme annually and gives participating printmakers guidelines for submitting an entry. She caps participation at 15 artists per exchange.
After receiving the theme and guidelines, each artist submits 15 copies of their design to Forbis. She then sorts and distributes them so each artist gets one copy of each participating artists' prints.
"The biggest plus for me is when I assign these themes and then I get to see everyone's different take on it," Forbis said. "It just is so different, how everybody perceives the same prompt that's given to them."
Forbis hosts printmaking exchanges in addition to her full-time job with the Missouri Department of Revenue. She moved to the Capital City in 2020.
She said seeing the work on display at the library has been exciting. A lot of exhibitors prefer works to be from a single artist, she said, so it can be difficult to find places to display a collection of prints from exchanges.
Missouri River Regional Library hosts four art exhibits each year, said Madeline Matson, reference and adult program librarian, and printmaking isn't usually one of them.
But the "Damsel in the Press" exhibit has been really popular, she said.
"We've had occasional group shows but mostly it's single artists," Matson said. "But, yeah, we've gotten lots of good comments on it. It's so different from our previous exhibits."
Printmaking is a sort of catch-all term referring to mediums that allow an artist to reproduce a design multiple times.
Screen printing is a form of printmaking. Other forms might use ink over metal, wood or stone to transfer an image to paper. Forbis said she often works with wood blocks to make prints.
One of the artists in her exchange, she said, creates a lot of three-dimensional structures with boards he has screen printed on.
"The applications are really endless, but printmaking is just not as prevalently known as painting and photography and ceramics," Forbis said. "But I love it. It's a different way of thinking."
The creation of a print is process-driven, but each process is completely unique, Forbis said. Each print is made in the inverse, she explained, because the reflection is then printed on paper.
The art form gives artists leeway to experiment with countless copies and make an image the best it can be, Forbis said.
Although she did some printmaking in high school, Forbis said she really began practicing in college at Truman State University, where she graduated with a fine arts degree in printmaking in 2008.
She said she started the exchange as a way to keep in touch with printmakers and meet new ones. Some of her former professors participate, she said, as do some artists from as far as Australia and Egypt.
"My base camp is mainly a lot of my Missouri artists and then also Truman artists that have then gone back to their homes and spread the word to their friends who are printmakers," Forbis said.
When she started hosting printmaking exchanges, Forbis said she had maybe seven artists participate. Artists often choose to submit based on what else they have going on. Forbis said the largest exchange she's hosted had 22 artists, but she's submitted entries to some with thousands.
"Printmaking exchanges aren't exactly often done, especially on the scale that I do it where everyone gets one back," she said.
Communication between the exchange host and artists is rare, Forbis said, so she doesn't know what she's getting in terms of finished work.
The surprise element has resulted in some "lackluster" entries, Forbis said, but for the most part exchanges result in quality prints that work well together.
"It's almost like Christmas when we get the packages back because you're getting to see everybody's print," she said. "Viewing them as a set or just viewing them individually is just fun."