Behind the Scenes

Printmakers make an impression south of Boston

“Veiled Lady,” a monoprint with collage on paper, by Mary Taylor.
“Veiled Lady,” a monoprint with collage on paper, by Mary Taylor.

A local arts group formed from the students of aveteran printmaker and teacher will hold its first juried show beginning Sunday at the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, featuring prints made by 25 of its members.

The Coastal Printmakers, a group of some 45 South Shore artists, will continue with a series of exhibitions with shows this fall at the Front Street Gallery in Scituate, Scituate Town Library, and James Library in Norwell in the spring.

The group was formed six years ago, consisting of students from Esther Maschio’s printmaking class at the South Shore Art Center .

The founders include Elaine and Bob Cunniff of Kingston, whose artistic urges flowered after they retired from careers in education. Elaine had taught French at Hingham High School and Bob had been an administrator at Silver Lake Regional High School.


A trip to Japan to see a relative working there awoke in Elaine an interest in a country with a famed history of printmaking. After the trip, she gave her husband a printmaking class as a Christmas gift. When he raved about Maschio’s class, Elaine decided to join in as well.

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Coastal Printmakers found a venue for its first show in Falmouth, then held another at the James Library and Center for the Arts to raise money for the center.

For the Art Complex show, members submitted portfolios of monotypes, gelatin prints, transfer prints, prints from solar plates, collage, collagraphs, and etchings.

Craig Bloodgood, the museum’s curator, chose works from 25 members, including printmakers from Kingston, Quincy, Cohasset, Hull, Pembroke, Hingham, Scituate, Weymouth, Braintree, and Marshfield.

Cunniff said the group’s members produce their work largely through traditional hand-pulled methods. You make a plate, ink it, lay paper on top, then crank the press until the image is impressed onto the paper.


There’s no lack of variety in the printmakers’ universe, Cunniff said. “At first it was how many marshes do you want to see? Then we went to a printmakers’ show.” She was amazed at how many styles were represented in a single show.

Ways of producing the printmaking plate range from the age-old, such as carving lines on wood to produce an etching, to contemporary techniques such as solar and gelatin prints. White-line prints, a method favored by Cunniff’s husband, are made by cutting images away from a wood block. Color is applied directly to the woodblock, and the resulting images are outlined by the white space of the un-inked areas.

Collograph produces a hand-built plate, a method favored by member Jane Johnston of Quincy, Cunniff said.

She uses a cardboard base and glues objects such as sewing notions, string, twine, leaves, cardboard, and round, looseleaf-paper reinforcers (“they make beautiful eyes for fish”) to the plate. Johnston used the collograph technique to produce her work “Tuna Plate.”

A solar print is produced by a chemically treated plate left in the sun, Cunniff said. The sun creates an image, then you ink it and press.


In gelatin printmaking, unflavored gelatin is spread on a baking pan with low edges, objects such as leaves are added to make an impression, and paper is then handed rubbed over the gelatin plate to make a print, Cunniff said.

Polystyrene plates, like those used to package food in supermarkets, are also being used in printmaking. This involves drawing a design on the plate, inking it, and then hand pressing. The process yields a white-line print.

A monotype, Cunniff said, is a one-off original print. A second, fainter copy, called a “ghost,” is sometimes also produced. Etchings and woodblocks can be re-inked to produce a series.

Maschio, a Scituate resident, will speak about her handmade “artist books” during a talk at the Art Complex Museum on Oct. 17.

Johnston will also speak about her favorite methods using ordinary household objects and materials to make 3-D collograph plates producing strikingly realistic images.

Joan Drescher of Hingham, a children’s book author and illustrator, will talk about the healing aspect of art at the same event.

Also, internationally renowned printmaker Mary L. Taylor of Marshfield will lead a workshop on gelatin monoprints and accordion books at the museum’s studio on Oct. 19.

Robert Knox can be reached at