Zygote Press, Fine Art Printmaking Workshop
2012 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
There is one simple guiding principle in printmaking: no press, no prints. Presses are not easy to come by, either, so many artists who are printmakers find other media after they graduate and lose access to the equipment at a university or art school. That’s why four artists with ties to the Cleveland Institute of Art banded together in the mid 90s to obtain a building and some presses so they could continue their work.
It all started when Liz Maugans met Joe Sroka at CIA where he was a student and she was a teaching assistant, after earning her MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan, in 1992.
The two friends discussed the great need for a press facility in Cleveland, but nothing happened until 1994, after Liz returned from a summer trip, where she was energized by a visit to a printmaking workshop in New York City. One year later, they incorporated Zygote Press, named for the fact that both Liz and Joe had twin siblings.
“Joe and I found an old space recommended by Holly Morrison (CAP 1998), formerly a professor at CIA,” recalls Liz, executive director of Zygote Press, of their first location in the Buckeye Carbon Ribbon Factory at East 72nd Street and St. Clair Avenue. “We started buying drywall, acquiring equipment, and putting the space together.”
They were soon joined by CIA graduate Kelly Novak and Bellamy Printz, who was a native New Yorker but had spent a year as a teaching assistant in CIA’s printmaking department before relocating to Seattle for graduate school.
The opportunity to start a workshop was too tempting, so she returned. In 1996, the intrepid and entrepreneurial foursome launched Zygote Press.
“We each took on the different responsibilities to run the shop,” Liz says. “Then we had so many requests from artists that we started building little studio spaces for people to rent, and creating policies and so on to form the organization.” Zygote Press received its 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status in 2001.
Almost 17 years after they opened, to say that Zygote Press has grown and become successful beyond their original expectations would be an understatement. “When we started, we really didn’t think it was going to be what it has become,” says Bellamy, who left her unpaid position at Zygote Press six years ago to become a curator at the Cleveland Clinic, but became Zygote Press Board President shortly afterward. “This is much bigger than what we thought it was going to be, and it’s amazing.”
In the early days, the four were happy to have the equipment and space they needed to continue their printmaking. But they also always maintained an open-door policy so that other artists would have access to the equipment. Since then, they have found ways to enable numerous artists to produce fine art prints within an atmosphere of collective exchange by providing them with affordable work space and exhibition opportunities. A barter system provides artists with the opportunity to work at Zygote Press in exchange for studio time and access to the multiple and varied types of presses available. “The people who are there want to make art,” Bellamy says. “They want to help the shop, because when they help the shop, they can do their art, so it’s a good symbiotic relationship.”
Liz credits early support from the Ohio Arts Council with helping them get established and build momentum with new programs so that they could obtain additional support from the Cleveland and Gund foundations. Through the OAC funding in 1998, for example, Zygote Press initiated its ongoing Dresden program, an artist exchange effort that brings German artists to Cleveland and sends Cleveland artists to Germany.
In 2006, Zygote nearly doubled its space by moving into 6,500 square feet in a historic building in Cleveland’s Arts Quarter. Adjacent to the 3,500-square-foot print shop, there is a 1,500-square-foot workshop gallery, which is available for exhibition by both resident artists and artist-members.
Two of the most recent major initiatives include the ZPASS or Zygote Press Artist Share Space, a 1,500-square-foot apartment on the second floor of the building that provides living space for artists visiting Zygote or other area arts organizations. ZPASS started last fall, and they are already booked with visiting artists for the entire year. In addition to the experience it provides the artists, and the creative cross-fertilization opportunities it engenders, the visitors also patronize local shops and restaurants and enhance Zygote’s connections to the neighborhood.
This year, Zygote has launched the Collective Art Network (CAN) journal to create an effective gallery guide for the region and disseminate all the activities available to Northeast Ohioans at many smaller art galleries and organizations. Currently, 28 visual arts organizations are involved. The initial response has been so strong that what was planned as a one-year project will now become a quarterly publication.
“We just continue progressing and finding an innovative new trajectory, so every year there’s something new,” Bellamy says.
“The collaborative nature of our shop allows us to connect with all of these significant artists around us,” Liz adds. “We do whatever we can to assist, support, and energize them.”
Although they both still pour a substantial amount of effort into their “baby,” Liz and Bellamy both find time to continue creating their own artworks. Recently, Liz has been developing a number of pieces related to the desperation individuals are feeling with the economic downturn, loss of jobs, and home foreclosures. Bellamy has a show that will open at the William Busta Gallery in Cleveland in October.
While Joe and Kelly remain involved, they have moved on to full-time jobs in other states. But Liz and Bellamy remain as the yin and yang, powering and managing the institution that is Zygote. According to Bellamy, Liz is the driver, and she sits next to her cheering her on or asking the organizational detail questions that need to be asked. Often, the two put their
heads together to devise where Zygote Press should head next.
“The only person I’ve been together with longer is my husband,” Bellamy quips. “We both feel very connected to each other, and it’s a very positive relationship.”
Liz adds that all of the founders are proud of what they have accomplished over the past two decades. “When we see that well-known artists list their shows at Zygote Press on their resume, then that indicates a certain level of reputation that we’re building,” she says. “We also think it’s wonderful to know that we’ve had a part in their growth as artists.”