Kalamazoo wood block print artist Mary Brodbeck says she has come to realize that very few people understand how a wood block print is made. A conference for such artists was held in Japan last year and Brodbeck attended, both as an accomplished print maker, and as a novice filmmaker. Brodbeck says learning to make a documentary was and still is a steep learning curve, but she had to tell the story of an art process that she feels few people actually understand.
“So the first Japanese Wood Block Print conference occurred last year, in June of 2011,” she says, “and I thought it would be really great to document it and to film it. So, I bought a camera and I just thought this would be a great opportunity to get this on record for people in the United States who don’t know much about this medium.”
At first, conference organizers weren’t on board with her idea, but she eventually, more or less, reached her goal.
“The person I was working with, and this was all email, said well, you can come over and maybe you can film some things, but don’t make the documentary about us. Make it about you.” Brodbeck continues, “The fact that I work in Japanese Wood Block Print making, um, it never occurred to me when I learned this medium, that people wouldn’t know what it was. That never occurred to me. So, the fact that people look at it, and don’t know what it is and even ask me what kind of printer I used, you know, like a computer printer, that educating people on the process has been a really big part of my being an artist here in Kalamazoo.”
Brodbeck says her documentary will open with her explaining what a wood block print is and how it’s made. “And, that includes me going out into the landscape, me filming myself, with the camera on a tripod, in the landscape, sketching the sketch. And then I come back in my studio and show the whole process of how the print is made, the step-by-step process. While I’m doing all that in my studio other people are talking about the techniques that I’m using. When I was at the conference in Japan I interviewed several people. It was an opportunity for me to interview artists that are wood block print makers because they were all there in one place. I also have footage of some traditional techniques from the people that were demonstrating there. So you see a little bit of comparison between what’s happening in Japan, the traditional way, and what’s happening in Michigan, with contemporary artists. So, there’s some historical references.”
Brodbeck’s film will also include comments from Kalamazoo author and philosopher Mark Nepo about why making art is such an important part of the human experience. Kalamazoo naturalist Sarah Redding will be in the film, too, talking about features that make the Michigan landscape unique. Holland resident and Wayne State University sophomore Elliott Shriner even wrote an original music score for the film.
Making wood block prints is what Mary Brodbeck does, it’s right in her comfort zone after years as an artist. Making a documentary film has put her in the position of being both an educator and someone who is still learning about making art.
“Actually,” she says, “I have shown some clips, some segments of my film to people, and then, there’s always more questions I get than I’m prepared for. I guess the frustrating thing for me is to know in my heart that I’m doing the right thing and that my voice is unique.”
Mary Brodbeck works on her art at the Willard Street Studios at 610 West Willard Street in Kalamazoo. The studios are holding an open house this weekend, with hours from 3-to-8 p.m on Saturday, December 1 and from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 2. Brodbeck expects to finish work on her documentary about wood block print making sometime in 2013.