Twin Vixen Printmakers at Dianich Gallery
"Helen, I'll move to Brattleboro if you agree to start an etching studio."
With that single sentence, on a cold day in October 2007, an adventure began, a studio was founded, and a friendship solidified. Briony Morrow-Cribbs and Helen O'Donnell had met two years before while traveling to Florence, Italy with a small group of Northwest Printmakers. They spent four weeks studying at Il Bisonte, a professional print studio over 50 years old. After their thoroughly European adventure, the two became close companions, sharing both facilities and friends.
Originally from Mount Desert Island in Maine, Helen O'Donnell studied art at Bates College. She first traveled to Florence during her junior year, studying at Il Bisonte under Swietlan Kraczyna for nine months. Taken with the process of etching, she returned to Bates to pursue her senior thesis work in printmaking. Following graduation, she moved to Bellingham, Washington to begin her career in both art and gardening.
Briony Morrow-Cribbs, the daughter of two artists, grew up on Whidbey Island, Washington. As a teenager, she was introduced to printmaking by her father at the Cat Skinner Press in nearby Freeland. Her printing education continued at Bennington College and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. After graduating with a BFA in 2005, Briony returned to Whidbey Island, where her printing continued to develop and grew to include fine hand-bound books.
In October 2005, the two women met during a pre-trip meeting for their study session in Italy. Helen learned of Briony's studio, drove down to visit Whidbey Island, and during the months leading up to the trip, the two became friends. This friendship developed while abroad and continued to grow over the next two years.
In October 2007, after deciding to return east, specifially Brattleboro, Vermont, Helen drove the two hours to Whidbey Island for one last visit with Briony and her parents. There was talk of future plans, of dreams, and of ambitions. Helen spoke of her need to continue to make art and Briony spoke of her need for a life change. And then the inevitable was stated: "Helen, I'll move to Brattleboro if you agree to start an etching studio." At that point there was no turning back. The two began researching and finding ways to make their dream work. Within weeks, a press was donated to the cause and blessings poured in from friends and family.
In January 2008, Helen and Briony officially founded Twin Vixen Press in space rented from David Parker at the Whetstone Studios. The Griffin etching press that had been generously donated was delivered to its new home. Over the next few months the studio grew at a rapid rate. Each day the two tackled a new project: work benches were brought in from Helen's grandfather's woodshop, glass counters were installed, the crate that delivered the press was fashioned into a drying and storage rack. To raise funds to buy equipment and materials for the studio, the Vixens started an annual print subscription to deliver two prints to subscribers for $60. The 2008 subscription brought in enough money for the studio to purchase a Polymetal Aquatint Rosin Dust Box along with enough ink and other supplies to start the business.
Beginning the following summer, Helen and Briony offered basic etching workshops every few months and took on a student from the Compass School to mentor. Workshop participants expressed enough interest in continuing their etching work that a regular student-day schedule was established. For a small fee, students who had taken a beginning workshop are allowed to come in for a few hours on Mondays to continue work on their individual projects, prints, and ideas.
Twin Vixen Press is now equipped to match Helen and Briony's initial concept for a print studio: a resource for a community of artists to develop a love of printing, improve skills and techniques, and introduce the creative process to young people at a time when art programs are being cut from schools. To these ends, the women make their space available for individual work. A number of teenagers have worked through the Press, and there are plans for developing a series of afternoon classes for high-school students. Weekend workshops are offered on an ongoing schedule to provide the instruction necessary to prepare plates, etch images, and use the press. There are future plans to improve the physical resources of the studio, include a second press, an acid station, and a new ventilation system.
What began as a conversation in Washington has truly grown into a resource that these women, and the entire community, can be proud of.
MORE ABOUT THE VIXENS' WORK & THE EXHIBIT AT DIANICH GALLERY:
Briony Morrow-Cribbs creates finely detailed etchings of botanicals and chimera as well as illustrated, hand-bound, limited-edition books. In addition, she often invents and writes a systematic taxonomy for her various original creatures. On display at the Catherine Dianich Gallery this month will be several hand-tinted prints from her Wicked Plants series, originally executed for "Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities," published last spring. Also on display will be her 2007 and 2008 Botanical Suite series and illustrations from "Iskandariya."
In the past few years, Helen O'Donnell has focused on creating multiple-plate color etchings. In addition to hardground etching, she employs other Intaglio techniques such as Aquatint, Open-bite, Sugar Lift, Dry Point, and Engraving to create rich and varied textures. When she is not making etchings, she is oil painting, often with wax mediums and painting with her hands, to create vibrant and implicit landscapes.
Copyright 2009, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont