Happy 20th birthday, Manneken Press!
2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of Manneken Press, a long, strange trip indeed, and a natural time for reflecting on the past as well as looking forward to the future.
Shortly after we were married, Sarah Smelser and I embarked on another sort of journey. In 2000 a mutual love of prints and a long-simmering desire to publish prints with the artists we liked evolved from a nascent idea into a reality. I had spent a dozen years collaborating with artists and publishers on print projects in studios in New York, California and Maine. Sarah had recently started her career as a professor at West Virginia University, teaching printmaking. We ordered an etching press that spring which would be delivered some months later. While artists in residence at the Frans Masereel Center in Belgium that summer we were able to dream and brainstorm, working out what our endeavor was going to be, including what to christen it. Manneken Press came about as a humorous play on words while we were riffing on names and sipping beers in a pub across the way from the famous Manneken Pis statue in Brussels (see photo above), and the name stuck.
Morgantown, WV studio, 2001
From Morgantown to Bloomington
T he latter part of 2000 was spent building a professional print atelier from scratch in a huge, light filled studio on the banks of the Monongahela River in Morgantown, WV, and producing our first projects with Ted Kincaid, Betty Friedman and Rupert Deese. Two years later we moved the press to Bloomington, IL, and many artists, editions, exhibitions and art fairs later, Manneken Press has grown from representing a core handful of artists based mostly in NYC and Dallas, to establishing a reputation as a dynamic publisher of contemporary prints and works on paper by artists from many regions of the USA and beyond.
Above: Ted Kincaid and Jonathan Higgins at the Morgantown, WV studio.
Ted’s series of minimal, abstract photogravures was one of our first major projects. The ink and chine collé colors were changed with each impression to create a variable edition of each of the six images. The early success of this project proved to be important for Manneken’s future. See a selection of Ted Kincaid’s prints here.
“Creare aliquid ex nihilo”
L ike many aspects of the art world, print publishing is a business. However, at the heart of it is the artist working in the studio with the collaborating master printer. “Creare aliquid ex nihilo” is an apt motto for our endeavor, for creating something from nothing is at the root of all creativity; I contemplate this fact each time I prepare a new, un-etched copper plate that will eventually yield an artist’s printed image.
M anneken Press continues to be a work in progress. The family Sarah and I started around the same time as Manneken has grown and matured, mirroring the growth of the business. Our family of artists has grown too, for the intimate process of collaborating in the studio has fostered long-standing friendships, and many artists have returned to create numerous projects at Manneken Press over the years, extending their graphic record in a larger body of work.
In our oeuvre of twenty years I can see a coherent aesthetic, a consistent commitment to strong graphic images, material presence, and the principle that an economy of means yields dividends, or, less is more. Mark Twain once said that the art of prophesy is very difficult, especially with respect to the future, but we will aspire to maintain those artistic principles as the creative projects we produce in 2020 and beyond take shape. Happy birthday Manneken Press!