The Bridges of Tom Schorgl


2015 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

2015 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl. Images courtesy of Valerie Schumacher.

Tom Schorgl is best known in Cleveland as the researcher, policy maker, and advocate who led the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture (CPAC) and built the argument for public support of the Arts in Cuyahoga County. His work on that front eventually led to the creation of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

Schorgl’s training, though, and his commitment to the arts, are grounded in the study of printmaking. He has a BFA in art and art history, and an MA in drawing from the University of Iowa. He has an MFA in printmaking from Miami University. CAN is proud to highlight this aspect of his practice in The Bridges of Tom Schorgl, as we open the CAN Triennial office April 20. The artist will be in attendance for an opening reception that night. The exhibit will be on view the Third Friday of each month, through June 15.

2016 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

2016 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

I learned of Mr. Schorgl’s wood engraving practice in 2006, when I received in the mail a small print depicting the Buckeye Bridge, an iconic structure at East 90th and Holton, in Cleveland’s “Forgotten Triangle” neighborhood. But he began making wood engraving prints of Cleveland bridges in 1998, shortly after arriving here. Since then he has carved one block and editioned one print annually, sending them as a post-holiday greeting to his contacts. They are printed by Frank Underwood at Madison Press in Lakewood. There are railroad bridges and highway bridges, bridges of stone, steel, and concrete. There are bridges across the Cuyahoga River, and across Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park. This year, just a month after stepping down from CPAC, he completed and sent his 20th print in this series.

Wood engraving is a 19th century illustration technique, used in newspapers and all kinds of publishing to create portraits of people and other images. While wood engravings and woodcuts both are relief printing techniques, they are distinguished by one defining detail: woodcut images are carved into the plank side of the block, while wood engravings are carved into end-grain. Carving into end grain removes the linear effect of the wood’s grain, which allows for finer details and more precise carving in any direction.

2012 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

2012 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

Bridges are a subject well matched to Schorgl’s work in the arts:  his advocacy has been about making connections: from person to person, organization to organization, one idea to another, one sector of the economy to another.

You can read bridge-building skill into wood block’s traditional use of black ink:  every element of an image is either black or white. It’s binary, defined by contrast. The skill of the printmaker is to make the two sides, the positive and the negative, work together. It’s the combination of the two that define the image. One without the other is nothing.

Guardian, wood engraving, 2018, by Tom Schorgl

Schorgl’s motivation in making these prints, though, was to maintain his connection to the art form that was his starting point. It was that idea—the importance for arts administrators to continue their engagement with the art itself—that convinced him to join us in presenting this exhibition.

2017 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

2017 wood engraving by Tom Schorgl

CAN has pursued The Bridges of Tom Schorgl in one way or another for several years. In 2014, having noted Schorgl’s annual printmaking tradition, we asked if he would be interviewed for an article on the subject. To me it was news: the person most of us know only for his research and advocacy role was building a catalog of Cleveland images, all monumental, defining pieces of infrastructure. Schorgl politely declined, saying that he would hate to take up space in the magazine, which would leave less room for working artists in Cleveland.

But we were persistent. Our motivation was then and is now journalistic: The existence of this body of work strikes us as news. Did you know that the arts policy researcher, non-profit think-tank administrator, who championed the cause of public funding for the arts in Cuyahoga County was initially trained as an artist and printmaker, and that he has kept his hands engaged with that inky discipline through his 20 years of arts advocacy in Cuyahoga County? Come see for yourself.


The Bridges of Tom Schorgl

Twenty Wood Engravings, 1998 – 2008

April 20 – June 15, 2018

CAN Triennial / CAN Journal offices

78th Street Studios, 2nd Floor

1305 West 80th Street

Cleveland, Ohio 44102

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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