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‘American Epic’ printmaking series on display at Penn College gallery

The power of printmaking and an artist’s interpretation of the American story will be on display with “American Epic,” Oct. 25 through Dec. 12, in The Gallery at Penn College.

Jesse Shaw, assistant professor of art at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, has been laboring on his American Epic print series for 10 years, and, so far, 29 pieces of the planned 50 have been completed. Shaw’s hand-pulled linocut prints explore technology, American rituals, consumerism, allegory, printmaking history and religion.

An opening reception will be held Thursday, Oct. 25, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., in the gallery, located on the third floor of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Madigan Library. A gallery talk will begin at 5:30 p.m. The reception and exhibit are free and open to the public.

Shaw’s “American Flowers,” linocut, 36 inches by 24 inches
Shaw’s “American Flowers,” linocut, 36 inches by 24 inches

Shaw’s initial inspiration for exploring his own interpretation of the American story was social realist painter José Clemente Orozco’s “The Epic of American Civilization” mural at Dartmouth College. The work led Shaw to study Mexican printmaking and the works of other Mexican muralists, including Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

“When I pulled my first print, my artistic vision became tangible for the first time,” Shaw said. “After the second print, I began to realize what the word ‘infinite’ could mean to me. I gained personal meanings to many words through printmaking, including devotion, self-discipline, perseverance and craftsmanship.”

Shaw spends seven to nine months completing each of his relief prints, carved from linoleum blocks.

“The carving itself takes a while, and this allows for my mind to wander, listen to documentaries of films based on the subject matter I am working with, and generate other ideas …,” Shaw explained. “I find this an exciting way to work. I keep my eyes and ears open for visuals and ideas that can go in the work. I never know exactly how the image will resolve itself.

“I want to tell this story from my point of view as I see American life, and to create new allegories, narratives, iconography and symbolism based on my first-hand accounts and my personal experiences. I knew in starting the body of work that it may take 20 years to complete and that I would be a different person by the end of it.”

In addition to the series of American Epic prints, Shaw continues to explore other mediums, techniques and collaborations.

Shaw, originally from Tennessee, earned a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from Rhode Island School of Design.

To accompany the “American Epic” exhibit, a display of original prints by members of the Wood Engravers Network will be on display in the lobby of The Gallery at Penn College. The prints, part of Madigan Library archives, are used for educational purposes and accompany the library’s subscription to Block & Burin, the newsletter of the Wood Engravers Network.

The gallery is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 7 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Saturdays, and will be closed Nov. 21-25.

In addition to serving as an educational resource for Penn College students and a cultural asset to the college and community, The Gallery at Penn College is dedicated to promoting art appreciation through exhibitions of contemporary art. Admission to the gallery is free.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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