Melissa Wollmering is a printmaker and professor at University of Scranton and Marywood University. She loves all forms of art, and has taught other areas of art in the past. She grew up in Minnesota and earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also has a master’s of fine arts degree in printmaking from Marywood University. She and her husband, Andrew, live in Scranton.
Meet Melissa Wollmering…
What first got you interested in art and more specifically in printmaking?
I think my parents probably encouraged all my siblings to pursue art. I have artists on both sides of the family, so it was kind of just always an option. I’ve always had an interest from a young age. I don’t know if there’s any particular moment I can say that sparked it, but I’ve always liked making things. I grew up on a farm, so we were allowed to just go into the barn and just make stuff with whatever we found. It was nice to have that urge and put it into something more directed. As for printmaking, I had barely even heard of it until college. I went to a school that randomly had a very solid printmaking program. I was introduced to it in college and I just loved it. I insanely loved it. It was magical.
What about printmaking got you hooked?
I would say the materials and the process. You’re kind of like a mad scientist. The method that I started with is called intaglio, which is kind of a strange one to start with, people usually start with relief, it’s a little easier. The nature of intaglio is so cool because you have a copperplate, you get to carve it and then you get to throw it in vats of acid, and burn it and cut it. The process was so fun, it was a lot of substances, materials and processes… and a vat of acid, how cool is that. There’s this element where you don’t have full control, which I thought was really exciting.
Are you working on any projects right now?
There is an organization called Big Ink, which is a printmaking collaborative out of New Hampshire, and they have a mission to spread large-scale woodcut or relief work. A lot of organizations in printmaking are seeking to promote the methods because not many people know about it. They have a very large press and they go to different galleries and have events. They ask certain artists to cut blocks. There are five artists, and they have a big event — the whole day you print big-scale and they exhibit them, so it’s a very collaborative, fun event in addition to producing art.
What are some of the previous shows that you’ve had your work displayed in?
I’m part of a printmaking guild. That’s a really fun kind of a show or organization to be associated with. A lot of printmakers are associated with guilds where you do editions and then print trades. So everyone would create an edition of, say, 25, and then you get one of everybody else’s print. You get to have a huge art collection because every time you are involved with it, you get 25 pieces back. Printmaking or even a lot of arts can be sort of solitary, but there’s something inherent about printmaking that’s collaborative.
What is the printmaking atmosphere in Northeast Pennsylvania like? Are you able to collaborate with other artists?
The print community is quite strong in Scranton. We have this studio [at University of Scranton], and at Marywood University. Peter Hoffer, who has managed the printmaking department for 40 years, has created a lovely community. There are other teachers, including Chris Medley at The Workshop downtown. There are actually quite a few people who do printmaking in the area, and a lot of artists, even if they identify as a painter or sculptor, dip their toe in print making probably once or twice. It’s a very open thing where if you’re looking for something different, a lot of people will just try it, and if there’s a studio, it brings people in.
What other types of art do you enjoy or do you like to do?
Photography, I love it. It’s a real sister discipline to printmaking because a lot of the processes are similar. Photography is very process heavy if you do the darkroom and film. And digital is very process heavy in a different way. I did a bit of that and it’s always in the back of my head as something fun. Also, when you are a print maker, you’re tied to the studio pretty tightly. You don’t walk around and do stuff outside like a painter. With photography you really can go out in the world, and I really like being an acting agent out in the world and getting a little more exposure outside of the studio.
What artists inspire you?
I was very into Klimt and Egon Schiele for a few years. I very much admire the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Kiki Smith as well. I get so much enjoyment out of almost every artist I encounter. I also like Munch, he’s Norwegian and he worked in the 19 century. He came up with some multi-colored relief wood cuts so I’m very interested in his work. He has a very strong existential sort of concern and I’m very interested in art theory and of course philosophy and the osmosis so he’s quite interesting to me at the moment now. Also, Käthe Kollwitz, she’s great and another printmaker, also a woman, which is nice.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
You’re always learning. I love getting to explore new methods and different exercises for the students and see them learning. Whenever you see a light bulb go off or that they really love something, that is amazing. It’s just nice having a community of people exploring.
Either from an artist’s standpoint or a teacher’s, what is one of the biggest challenges of printmaking?
Printmaking is challenging in that you need space for materials and process. You can’t do it anywhere, and it takes a certain amount of physical space. Another thing that a lot of people find challenging, but I love it, is you can’t go faster than the process allows. Sometimes the speed at which you can work is a challenge.
What is the process of printmaking like?
There are different types of printmaking. Relief would probably be what people are familiar with or perhaps screen printing, which is what’s done to make T-shirts. Essentially when you’re printing, you’re taking ink from one surface and transferring it to another. You’re working with a matrix as opposed to a paintbrush. You’re working from a finite mold and transferring it to a substrate. What you do to the matrix before you print is where all the variation comes in.
Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I had a professor in undergrad, he was a wonderful sculptor. He was advising me one day. I was trying to decide what to do with my life, as one does in college, and he sat me down and he said ‘Don’t wait for an epiphany. You know what you want to do, just pursue it.’ Art can be a difficult area because sometimes you’re not sure if you can really make a living. I think that was a lovely deciding moment hearing that.
Photos by Emma Black: