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The Studio That Could
By Wide Eyes
I have driven past Studio 23’s garage door in Richmond, Virginia about a hundred times. I have heard it spoken of, but I had no idea what it was all about. Calling it a simple print studio would not do it justice. It is more of an urban cooperative for artists and those trying to become artists. I was excited to explore it and learn more about what they did.
Jeff and I walk past that garage door with the Studio 23 logo and are immediately greeted by Ashley Hawkins. Ashley is one of the four founders, a member of the board of directors, and responsible for most of the daily operations at the studio. We are in the middle of the work space. It has the smell metal, wood, chemicals, and grease. It reminds me of walking through hardware stores with my dad when I was kid. There are large wooden tables that cross the entire room. Most of the equipment lines the walls. Ashley walks me through the space and points out what everything is and what it does and how it works. She shows me where most of the screen prints are made. The sinks still have remnants of the last print around the edges. She opens up the acid bath where they wash out the exposure. We duck our heads under shelving to look at the vacuum exposure. It has a large crack in the glass. I ask if it affects the end product and she shakes her head, but tells me that it is being replaced by the one who broke it.
Above our heads are shelves holding old screens. She pulls out a few and can even remember whose they were or what event they were used for. There are easily over a hundred of these screens. I ask if it is expensive to constantly get new ones. She smiles as she explains that they use a company who re-stretch and reframe them. So the studio saves a lot on recycling older screens.
She lays her hand on metal chest of drawers. These are the files of the artists. This seems like a good time to ask how it works to rent space here. She talks with her hands and in an excited tone. To use the facilities one pays $90 in rent a month. This gets you a key for 24 hour access, a locker to keep materials and personal effects, a file to keep your finished work, and use of any of their wide range of equipment. Beyond the $90 they ask for one piece of your work to show in the gallery. They make no commission on it, it is only to highlight the work they do. I can scarcely imagine a better deal.
We cross the room to a machine with two large rollers and a conveyer belt. I have no idea what I am looking at. She extends her arms to it and tells me it is their litho press. Lithography is one of the oldest forms of printmaking. It is a magnificent looking machine. Its splendor stands the test of time and the progression of technology. In the corner there are two interns cataloging all the letters and tiles that came with it. They look like children looking for toys; knees together, necks extended, and hands picking through the contents. They look up and smile sweetly before going back to cataloguing.
Past the workspace is the gallery. I follow Ashley into the bright room. It is just as large as the workshop. They are between showings so I can’t get a look at anything beyond the walls, but the space is so large that you would have room to move around and see everything without much trouble. There is a raised area that can serve as a stage and a small bar for refreshments. I compliment the space. She tells me how much work was involved in getting it to look like this. Clearing out the warehouse from its previous owner ( who had it packed to the brim,) putting up walls, getting the lighting and electrical installed, and then moving the equipment. It is no small feat. Ashley shows me a small room she calls “Pool Cue Haven”. There is an artist who uses this room to make custom pool cues. They are hanging all around and pieces are laying across his workbench. It is an impressive set up and I want to come back and see one being made. I make a note to myself to do so. The back room is rented by another screen printer. It has his equipment, some extra storage and machines that are needing service.
After the back room we spend a few minutes in their darkroom that they converted from an old bathroom. The enlargers look like pieces of sci-fi equipment from a 1960’s film. I am introduced to Mallory who is working on getting the dark room set up for an upcoming class. We walk back through the gallery and up the stairs to the office. There are a few guys from Quickness messenger service eating at a table. They use this space as an HQ between deliveries. The office has shelves full of books on printmaking and various artists. Ashley’s desk is covered in binders and folders for the various grants she works on. It is a desk that highlights the amount of work she does here. She grits her teeth and apologizes for the mess. We walk back down stairs, through the gallery, and to the work space. She invites us to come back anytime and check out the shows in the gallery or to take a class. We thank her for her time and head on our way.
have heard plenty of people and organizations talk about “building the community.” I have seen few that actually follow through. Studio 23 started as a simple idea in a small space in Plant Zero. Over the years and through the work of its members and volunteers it has grown. They moved out of Manchester and onto Main Street. They are constantly working on grants, programs, acquiring new equipment, and offering classes. It is all non profit and exists solely to help anyone who wants to learn the craft of printmaking. Since visiting I have met so many who do their work there. They have nothing but love when they talk about 23. After spending an afternoon there I can see why. Everyone they help becomes part of the network. Every piece that is made goes into the tapestry. Every day that community grows stronger. It is a beautiful thing and my hat is off to all those who are a part of it.ut Studio 23 at their website to learn more about their mission and class schedule.