Since returning to Western Pennsylvania last year, I have been researching my family history for artistic practice, to build an archive, and to understand more about my family members, both those living and those who have come before.
It started with an artist book project last semester. I realized that several family members and I were going through monumental life changes in addition to the global events of 2020. We were all growing up—at different ages and in different ways, but all at the same time. The book is titled Mia Famiglia, or My Family, and I think it is the most beautiful thing that I have ever made (or will make—it’s in the final stages). Eight of my family members contributed and collaborated on this project. That level of support and time spent with the people I love and admire most in this world has been so precious. It’s strengthened our relationships. Before this project, I think my art and how I work has been foreign to my family members. Working on this project with me and seeing how it has progressed has given them insight as to what exactly it is that I do and I am keeping them included with each step.
Graduation is looming, and there is always the question of future careers. The job market in arts education is uncertain—especially near where I live. I am willing to move if I must, but I am not keen to. I enjoy living near my family.
My artistic practice since returning home has been transforming. As an interdisciplinary artist, adapting comes easily, but finding an arts community where I fit has always been a challenge. I love all of the communities I am a part of—the printmaking, ceramics, academic, and other fine arts circles. I hadn’t found a community in which I truly felt like I could be my full self. Until, recently, that is.
Printed Matter, Inc. held a Virtual Art Book Fair (pmvabf.org) last month with free panels and hundreds of printing and publication vendors. It was one of the greatest events that I have been able to participate in (it was also free and I could tune in from the comfort of my home). The best part—it felt like home. I’ve worked in book-making and publications here and there (and my collection is extensive), but since the fall I have been gravitating towards it. The more that I learn, the more natural it feels to me.
When I was digging through family photos, I came across a picture of my Pap-Pap John (my maternal grandfather who passed away in July of 2019) running a massive printing press. I miss my grandfather so much, and knowing that he worked in print made me feel even more deeply connected to him. It felt like printing might be in my blood.
My father’s family has lived in Washington, PA since 1635. On our way to the Washington Cemetery to clean the family plots, my dad and I drove through downtown. When we passed the old Observer Reporter (newspaper) building, he told me that my great grandfather (G.G.) had run the presses there for forty years. G.G. passed away when I was six, but I was able to meet him a few times and I remember following him everywhere. Printing is definitely a part of me.
Two strong men in my life, men who built the family that I love today and are part of my reason for being here, were printers. It’s funny to be learning about this right now, right when I am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.
I have been toying with the possibility of opening my own feminist press for some time. I have spoken about it with my professors and peers within my community. And now it seems like my family history is encouraging me to move forward. It feels right.
So now I am in the planning stages. I want to teach and run an independent press. The hustle is real, but I feel prepared—Columbia College, my teachers and mentors, and my friends and family (here and not) have given me the tools that I need to make that happen. The future is in my blood.