Production Reproduction: Zygote Press bets on Cleveland and opens an annex in Collinwood

WHEN THE GREAT Cleveland-based Op-Artist Julian Stanczak painted an eye-popping response to the new MOCA building and donated it to boost the organization’s capital campaign, director Jill Snyder saw an even larger opportunity: a way to amplify the effect of the gift, to let more patrons participate in the occasion, and at the same time help MOCA raise more money: She asked Stanczak if they could reproduce the painting as a print. He agreed.

But to reproduce a painting to the artist’s satisfaction is no easy task. You can’t just call the people who do your postcards and pamphlets. The kind of saturated color that creates Stanczak’s hallmark optical experience is not well mimicked by the commercial, four-color process. So-called “giclee” prints on canvas or fine paper can make remarkable likenesses, but there’s no way around the dehumanizing fact that they are produced by digital machines. Fine prints are not the same as posters: they are works of art unto themselves.


complementaries, by Julian Stanczak, screen Print by Christi Birchfield

Complementaries, by Julian Stanczak, screen print by Christi Birchfield

Snyder asked her contacts who might be able to do the work and came away with just two recommendations, one of which was Zygote Press. Director Liz Maugans approached print maker Christi Birchfield, who just a year earlier had returned from New York, where she worked with the master printer at the Leroy Nieman Center at Columbia University. And Birchfield got to work, making screens and mixing ink.

This was a portentious moment: one Cleveland organization approached another with the challenging task of making a fine art print. Individual artists have been hired for this task now and then, mostly to make their own prints. Amy Casey, for example, was commissioned to make an edition of her own work for the Cleveland Arts Prize last year. But for a business to get a fine art reproduction contract, this was something new. And at any rate, there’s not a whole lot of this kind of work being done in town. Perhaps there could be.

As Birchfield dug into the project at Zygote, more than the expected printing challenges arose–including the fact that artists with their own projects were coming and going all the time, all using ink and solvent, perhaps drinking coffee. Cooperative art studios are almost always messy. It became clear as the project went on that a separate, clean, and dedicated space would make the finicky work go much more smoothly.

At about the same time, Collinwood was percolating with real estate opportunity. Thanks to Northeast Shores’ artist-oriented strategy to fill vacancy and fight foreclosure, houses, storefronts, and grant money were all available. And Alenka Banko — targeting artist-entrepreneurs — was offering tours.

Somewhere near the intersection of the Stanczak print and all that available real estate, the idea of a Zygote Press annex–a physical space dedicated to contract, fine-art printing–was born. It’s taken more than a year for the vision to become a commitment, and as CAN goes to press, the deal still is not sealed. Maugans says Zygote expects to sign closing papers in January, 2014. But thanks to grants from Northeast Shores and the Gund Foundation totaling about $60,000, and thanks to a foreclosed home they will buy for just $6,500, Zygote Press will have a new, bricks-and-mortar annex offering fine art printing services, up and running by June.


THE ZYGOTE ANNEX will be one of several houses taken out of foreclosure by Northeast Shores Development Corporation, and sold to artists at extremely low prices on the condition that they operate arts-related businesses there for at least three years. Others include Loren Naji’s installation space known as Satellite, and the Reverend Albert Wagner Museum. The houses along East 156th Street have been re-zoned as commercial property to make the art-and-business revival legal. In addition to low prices, they’re boosted by grants to pay for certain renovations. They’re on a single block between Waterloo and I-90, with an entrance ramp to the highway at the south end of the block. At the North End, Waterloo is in the process of complete, building-to building reconstruction, including sidewalks and streetscape. Around the corner on Waterloo are other new, art-related businesses, including the ceramic studio Brick, and the fiber art studio Praxis, a collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Art.


ALL THE NEW BUSINESSES on East 156th Street are entrepreneurial start-ups which–even with the boost of bargain real estate and grant support–face challenges. But galleries and co-operative artist studios have a track record of success in Cleveland, with plenty of thriving examples. To launch fine art printing as a retail service is another thing entirely. It’s not like a new restaurant trying to carve out a slice of the market’s pie. To launch a fine art printing service in Cleveland is to create the pie from scratch.

Indeed, a non-scientific survey of some of the businesses most likely to have commissioned prints produces very little record of this kind of commerce here. Bonfoey Gallery, which opened in 1893, has never commissioned a print. In business 25 and 30 years respectively, neither William Busta nor Bill Tregoning have commissioned fine art prints. Busta will celebrate his gallery’s 25th anniversary in January by issuing a Derek Hess print. He says the screen printing will be done by students of Michael Loderstedt at Kent State University.

But in the last year, contract printing opportunities seem to have proliferated. Fred and Laura Bidwell marked the launch of Transformer Station with the commission of an etching made from one of Vaughan Wascovich’s gigantic, pinhole photographs from the opening exhibit. MOCA recently returned to Zygote to commission a series of screen prints of photos by Michelle Grabner. And while SPACES has not commissioned prints, the gallery did recently launch Quarter Art, an art-by-subscription series, much of which, it seems, will likely be prints. The existence of the Zygote Annex makes that a possibility even for artists who are not printmakers.

Zygote’s wager is that offering and promoting the fine art printing service will be catalytic. Maugans says Zygote artists have individually accepted contract printing jobs as they have come, but never promoted the idea as an organization. “We said, what would happen if we went after this?”

The hope is create a new revenue stream for artists by giving them a way to sell a lower-priced product. Another is to build the issue of prints as a more active fund raising practice in Cleveland. Finally, the print shop hopes to simply create work.

Birchfield says in addition to fine art printing, they’re eager to offer the distinctive stamp of old school printmaking to the other businesses in Collinwood and across Cleveland–from gorgeous restaurant menus to concert posters, CD covers, and more.

“We’re putting together a print package, with set components, like a post card, a poster, and a CD cover, for a set price,” Birchfield says. “For some of these services where everything is standard, it could be like ordering from a menu.”

Birchfield will manage the business, doing much of the printing herself, but also consulting with and hiring other print makers. She’s already tapped the expertise of fellow Zygote artists Nicole Schneider, Corey Slawson, and Jason Lehrer while working on jobs for MOCA.

Apart from whatever work and commerce the project yields, it also adds a new conceptual dimension to making art in Cleveland. The idea of multiples opens up new possibilities not simply in the number of a given work for sale, and its price, but also in the nature of the work itself. Multiples can represent proliferation and enable shared experience. Whether offering the service will build the print market, and what Cleveland artists and dealers do with the potential, only time will tell.