Liz Chaflin started Zea Mays 15 years ago and has since grown it from a 1000 sqft facility to 6000 sqft of printmaking bliss. Zea Mays Printmaking is located in an old two story cutlery factory brick building in Florence, Massachusetts. With Northhampton being very quickly accessible by car or bicycle it is in a quiet location with everything essential near by.
The ground floor of the building is the teaching printshop focused primarily on Intaglio, Relief and Monotype, though they also offer various lithography alternatives. The ground floor is also home to a darkroom, a screen printing studio, a gallery space with big conference table and flatfile print collection, and the Annex (a very private space which is where I worked on the large Takach press for two weeks). The second floor of the building is split in two, on one side is the members print studio with presses, members kitchen and library area. More than half of the other side is the guest suite where artists in residence can stay in a fully furnished and outfitted apartment, with kitchen, bathroom, sitting room and two bedrooms with bed, storage and work desk.
To view a video tour of the printmaking space please visit HERE.
What makes Zea Mays unique is that Liz and her crew of members and interns are striving to be as environmentally friendly and non-toxic as possible. They are achieving this through various approaches. This includes recycling and composting, use of a rag service to minimize waste, having formulated and found various alternatives to previously toxic and harmful chemicals like screen emulsion remover, etching aquatint, ink clean up...etc... and much more. The amount of work and research that has been done at Zea Mays specifically focused on less harmful alternatives is extremely impressive and is the type of research that one expects to be done at universities. Most importantly, they are a fully functional printmaking facility. People who are used to the "old ways" may be surprised to find that these new recipes work just as well, and that the art making process is not hindered but instead enhanced by a much safer and healthier environment.
Many of Zea Mays' members are printmakers who previously had to stop working in print because of the health hazards. Like myself, many of them are canaries-in-the-coalmine who are hypersensitive with asthma, allergies and other various health problems. The thing is that many of us have become so hypersensitive to these chemicals because we used to be exposed to them for long periods of time. So the question I always ask, why is it necessary? Why does printmaking have to be toxic and harmful? And the answers I get from people are: "Because that's real printmaking." "Because I love the smell." "It's always been done that way." "It's tradition." This is not the answer in my eyes. My stay at Zea Mays has proven to me that a shop can be fully functional in the least toxic and least harmful way possible. In my humble opinion: That should be the future of printmaking. Why can't we introduce students and printmakers to a world that is actually safe for them to work in? Why can't that become the norm? I think it can and it should.
Quite a few printshops I have visited and worked in over the years have attempted to make printmaking less harmful by installing extremely expensive safety ventilation. That is one way of approaching it, though students are still exposed to the harmful chemicals. I love that Zea Mays approached the problem differently, that they are trying to substitute and eliminate harmful chemicals for better alternatives altogether. This makes a lot more sense to me; first of all, it is more affordable then thousands of dollars of ventilation equipment and therefore much more plausible for any shop to make the transition. Secondly, eliminating any kind of exposure is a real long-term solution.
Zea Mays publishes most of their research and new findings on their website. If you are interested in trying out some of these recipes check out their research, but I'd say it's never the same as when you have someone teach you the techniques. Liz Chaflin and her Zea Mays crew are very knowledgeable and are always happy to help with advice on how to transition your own printshop into a healthier and more environmentally sustainable printmaking facility. If you are primarily focused on Intaglio, Zea Mays offers a certificate program in Green Intaglio printing where, during an intensive program, you learn how to set up a green Intaglio printshop. It sounds like an excellent crash-course in safe Intaglio alternatives.
My experience at Zea Mays was extremely positive and some of the many reasons for this were the excellent printmaking facilities, the positive, supportive and respectful work environment, the helpful and knowledgeable crew, and an admirable dedication to make the printmaking experience as non-toxic, environmentally friendly and safe as possible.
To read more about my experience and the actual work I created during the residency keep an eye out for the next post.
The flatfiles - archive, gallery space, computer lab..etc..
Doors leading into the teaching printshop.
Etching baths and sink in the teaching workshop.
Etching workstation set up to use BIG Hardgound.
The Annex, a private printmaking studio
Big Takach press in the Annex
Worktables in the Annex.
Screen printing area with Screen press.