Climbing into the driver’s seat of a bright-green steamroller, Ashley Hawkins starts the engine and engages the clutch. With a singlewide roll at the front, Hawkins moves the heavy equipment forward with a cheer from onlookers.
This was the scene on September 13, 2013 as Hawkins hauled her first steamroller off the lot of Sunbelt Rentals. Though typically used for applying concrete or asphalt on roadbeds, this day was meant for printing a giant woodcut map of RVA.
With a team of local artists and designers, Hawkins and Studio Two Three, her nonprofit community print shop, had previously carved a map of Richmond into a large wooden plate. After heavy ink was applied to the woodcut, Hawkins covered the plate with a tapestry and navigated her newly acquired steamroller back and forth over the woodcut to produce the biggest hand-printed map of Richmond ever made.
As the demand for the limited-edition tapestries grew beyond the initial “Steamrolled” project, something else was happening in Richmond. Something even bigger than the giant map.
Richmond was beginning to once again appreciate the printmaking method as a way of creating art.
Despite the many digital advances over the years, the process used today that has sparked a resurgence in printmaking in Richmond and across the country is similar to the process used by fifth-century Chinese woodcutters (minus the steamroller). Over all of these years, one thing remains: Printmaking is the people’s art.
“Printmaking is a truly democratic art form, full of potential for communication, replication, and reproduction,” Hawkins says. “The 60s and 70s saw the rise of printmaking studios in the United States and brought printmaking to the forefront of artistic expression alongside painting and sculpture. In contemporary America new media, technology, enterprising print studios and publishers, and innovative artists have made print increasingly relevant.”
As an example, Hawkins easily rattles off proof—pointing to everything from fine-art prints to billboards, t-shirts to tote bags, and posters to handbills. “Printmaking is a vital component of both day-to-day life and the contemporary art world.”
It was this appreciation for the history of printmaking and its future that drove Hawkins to open Studio Two Three, initially located on W. Main Street in Richmond. As the only community printmaking workshop in Central Virginia, Hawkins and her team quickly grew the popularity of Studio Two Three from 2013 to 2014 as it began to inspire a new breed of printmakers, photographers, and other artists. Driving the buzz, Studio Two Three opened its doors to everyone—professionals, amateurs, teachers, and students—who came to the facility for 24/7 access to presses, darkroom, digital lab, and communal workspace.
“We realized we had come to a crossroads; community demand for our services far outweighed our capacity in our Main Street location. We had greater demand for workshops, private and communal studios, and exhibitions than we could currently host,” Hawkins says. “It is clear that the printmaking medium is built to last.”
Due to the community demand, Hawkins decided to relocate to a new home, called Studio Two Three: The Addition, located at 3300 W. Clay St. in Scott’s Addition. Over the past six months the Studio Two Three team has worked with local architect Mary Lorino of LoCh Design, interior designers Lauren Stewart and Christina Kern of Campfire and Co., and Monument Construction to plan and design The Addition. Joining her in the new location, Ross Trimmer of Sure Hand Signs will also call Scott’s Addition home.
Hawkins says that the new Scotts Addition location has a custom-designed print studio, 20 private studios, flex space for events and screenings, a new classroom, and an expanded darkroom and digital lab.
The Addition ensures that Studio Two Three can meet community need and reach more people. “Artists are a major part of our city’s vibrant cultural life, and we provide the resources artists need to create their work,” Hawkins says, pointing to the increased revenue from the larger space as the means for expanding the organization and improving its programs. “This is a move for Richmond’s future.”