A chance encounter at a roadside store in Montana a few years ago led Nancy Diessner, Bowdoin’s Spring 2017 Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project Visiting Artist, into a warehouse full of taxidermied animals. She found the experience unsettling, but in that she also found inspiration.
“I was already interested in the relationship between humans and animals, and for a while had been working with photographs from natural history museums,” said Diessner. “But walking into this huge space, jam-packed full of stuffed creatures was, to me, horrifying and sad.”
The animals were the private collection of a lifelong hunter who had died; they were on their way to a museum in California when Diessner, a printmaker, encountered them and was allowed to roam freely throughout the warehouse with her camera.
“I was extremely troubled by the fact that one person had spent his lifetime shooting these beautiful creatures, some of which are now extinct, just to stuff them for his own pleasure.”
Diessner said it was two years before she found a way to use the photos in a way that would adequately express the outrage and pain she felt, as well as her love for the animals. The result was the exhibition “The Sky is Falling,” which was shown in the Edwards Main Gallery February 14- March 3, 2017.
“The idea behind this show was to give the animals some life again,” she explained. “I want to give them a new world in which to exist—one that I have artificially manufactured and twisted for them—in order to soften the blow that their sky has fallen.”
“Technically,” said DIessner, “my new prints fall somewhere between the printmaking realm of etching and monotype, and the photographic realm of alternative processes. The prints are made by printing layer on top of layer: metal etching plates printed over colored monotype plates printed over two layers of altered photographic polymer plates.
“All these layers are needed to create an unreal space constructed more in the mind than taken from the world around us—what is up or down, dead or alive, space or matter is deliberately unclear.”
Although Diessner studied painting in college and graduate school, she has a long association with printing, which she first learned as a teenager. A college teacher of seventeen years, she has found herself drawn increasingly into the world of printmaking. She now runs the Dog’s Eye Print Studio in Framingham, Massachusetts, where she specializes in making photopolymer plates for other artists.
Diessner, a leading advocate of safer, less toxic printmaking techniques, also teaches at studios across the region.
“There’s something magical about the printmaking process,” Diessner said. “You have this damp paper, the plate is inked up, and when you run it through the press the image doesn’t sit on the surface, it’s embossed into the paper. This, for me, adds a uniquely sensual and tactile element to the art of printmaking.”