There was not a skate in sight at Chicago Printmakers Collaborative’s Roller Derby a week ago last Saturday in Lincoln Square, or fishnets or black eyes, only ink-stained aprons.
Roller Derby was the studio’s second steamroller printing event, a follow-up to Drum Roll Please in 2016. According to founder Deborah Maris Lader, a steamroller printing event is exactly what it sounds like: “We are basically turning a steamroller paving truck into a printing press.”
The steamroller was the center of the event: it took up most of the driveway behind the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative and added an element of spectacle not normally present in the quiet, individual art of creating woodblock prints.
Preparing one print took nine volunteers: eight people to carefully align the sheet of fabric over the inky six-foot-long wood block, and one to slowly pilot the industrial machine over it.
When I arrived, a block featuring geometric, topographical imagery was next in line to be printed—the work of Rachelle Hill, a former intern at Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. She had worked on a block with other artists for the 2016 event, but this year she went solo, carefully whittling her piece for two months in her bedroom.
Twelve other massive carvings rested against the fence lining the driveway, the handiwork of Maris Lader, Liz Born, Cara Dailey, Joel Dugan, Rachael Gressley, Taylor Hokanson, Gabe Hoare, Catherine Jacobi, Jon Keown, Bart Longacre, Cassie Tompkins, and a collaboration between a group of high-schoolers in a YOUMedia program.
Born, who is co-owner of the south-side studio Hoofprint Workshop, describes printmaking as “kind of like alchemy—everyone has their own formula.” This was evident in the variation between works. Though all were approximately the same size and shape, the artists displayed their own distinct styles, personalizing their pieces down to the size of the strokes they carved out of the wood.
Though the central spectacle of Roller Derby was clearly the creation of massive prints, there were other attractions: neighborhood bakery Baker Miller’s fist-size spherical doughnuts, a table where guests could make small prints with stamps carved from sweet potatoes and turnips, a folky jam session comprised of a rotating cast of local musicians. “My idea is just to bring the coolest aspects of our neighborhood together for this really cool printing event, to also highlight what we do as a collaborative.” says Maris Lader. “It’s sort of like a farmers’ market with printing.”
And though no local produce was sold, it did feel like a sort of neighborhood gathering, though less in a geographical sense. Roller Derby drew an audience of a wide age range, from babies on hips being introduced to each other to old friends sipping La Croix and chatting about their recent art, but despite the varied crowd there was a clear sense of small community: “We know almost everyone here,” says Born. As I moved through the space, it felt as though I was given a window into an insular community, but in the form of an invitation rather than an intrusion. This was a celebration, and everybody was invited to the party.