‘Pears, Monks & Dogs in Boats’ highlights different directions of local printmaker’s work

  • ">

    "Saint Pachomius and the Angel Eleleth at the burial of the Nag Hammadi Library" by Lilian Jackman. Contributed Photo

  • Lilian Jackman working on her printmaking press at Wilder Hill Press in Conway. Contributed Photo/Lucy Arrington

  • Lilian Jackman purchased her own press last year and founded Wilder Hill Press, on the grounds of Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway. Wilder Hill Press, expected to open this Spring, is a printing shop with a Charles Brand Etching Press at the center of the print shop and gallery. Contributed Photo/Lucy Arrington

  • Using various techniques and multiple plates, Lilian Jackman explores color in her prints, always defined by the strong framework of a ‘key block’, the original black-and-white image.

  • Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2021 8:51:26 AM

A return to college in her 50s sparked a lasting love for the art of print-making in local visual artist Lilian R. Jackman, whose work can currently be seen in the exhibit “Pears, Monks & Dogs in Boats” at the Salmon Falls Gallery in Shelburne Falls.

While perhaps best known as the owner of the nursery Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway, Jackman is also a visual artist. You get that by visiting the gardens, which are filled with color, texture and line, realized with plants, trees, stone walls, buildings and pathways. The colder winter months with less activity in the gardens are her time for working in two-dimensional mediums, specifically her chosen art form of letterpress and woodblock printmaking.

The prints in the exhibit at the Salmon Falls Gallery, 1 Ashfield St., include three basic directions. The first is woodblock illustrations for her children’s book, “Violeta: One Dog’s Journey.” The second, letterpress pieces composed from the typographic elements known as ‘dingbats.’ The third, woodblock prints inspired by her graduate studies at Yale Divinity School and by people she met during multiple trips to Nicaragua.

Jackman returned to school in her 50s, attending Smith College from 2005 to 2009. It was there she was introduced to printmaking and the ‘art of the book’ under Professor Barry Moser. Jackman printed several limited-edition broadsides and hand-bound books, drawing the text from her studies in philosophy and comparative religion. Jackman said that when studying or discussing religion, people are also reaching into topics of philosophy and humanity.

“When we think of religion, people think of studying God, but to a certain degree it is studying human nature,” Jackman said. “It’s a search for meaning or something beyond ourselves.”

Jackman said she was fortunate not to be going to school to develop a new career and could focus on her interest in comparative religion. She said she needed to take elective courses and signed up for printmaking with Moser her very first semester.

“The medium of letterpress itself, either you hate it or it captures you,” Jackman said. “There’s nothing like letterpress. You place each letter, every space, punctuation, piece of type. You’re literally handling every letter, the pressure and spacing. … It’s intimate work with the text.”

By the time her education at Smith was complete, Jackman had worked at the college’s press with Moser every semester. Jackman says she loved working in the “beautiful form,” using Smith College’s collection of Vandercook presses. Vandercook & Sons was a manufacturer of proof presses, founded in 1909 by Robert Vandercook, and was widely used by newspapers and businesses in the press industry during the 20th century. Vandercook developed the first and the most widely used proof presses that did not rely on gravity for the force of their impression.

Moser was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation for Lilian’s graduate studies at Yale University, in which he called her “pig-headed and good company.” While at Yale, Jackman focused her studies on apocryphal texts including the Gnostic Literature, a wisdom tradition with roots in Judaism, early Christianity and Greek philosophy. Her studies left little time for printmaking, but provided a lifetime of artistic inspiration.

After receiving her master’s degree from Yale in 2012, she said she was “called back home,” where she continues to study religious text and looks for ways to interpret and translate them through her art. She said the contents of religious texts can be wide reaching, but sometimes the text can “seem so alive and so immediate.”

“It is almost a parable for exactly what is happening in our world … because if we really read it, not much has changed,” Jackman said.

One of the pieces in the “Pears, Monks & Dogs in Boats,” exhibit that showcases the blend of her interests in printmaking and religious studies is “Saint Pachomius and the Angel Eleleth at the burial of the Nag Hammadi Library.”

“It’s black and white, and it’s an iconographic image in that everything in it is significant,” Jackman explained.

The image features a St. Pachomius standing beside the Angel Eleleth from the Gnostic Gospels, with Pachomius’ monastery in the left background. The right side of the piece features three “scary” monks digging up a large clay jar.

This is Jackman’s depiction of the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels. Long buried and suppressed, the Gnostic Gospels contain the secret writings attributed to the followers of Jesus. In 1945, 52 papyrus texts, including gospels and other secret documents, were found concealed in an earthenware jar buried in the Egyptian desert by two brothers.

When the jar was unearthed, Jackman said, one brother feared opening it and releasing a jinn, a spirit or demon, but the other brother wondered if it were filled with gold. The brothers broke it open and discovered it was filled with papyrus manuscripts. It wasn’t until after they brought the manuscripts home, and their mother used some of them to start a fire, that it was determined to be the Nag Hammadi library they had unearthed.

The Nag Hammadi library was discovered to contain manuscripts and documents that “changed scholarship of early Christianity and gnosticism,” Jackman said. Much of what was recovered was related to aspects of religion and documents that had been “pretty much wiped out” by the efforts of orthodox Christianity.

“Saint Pachomius and the Angel Eleleth at the burial of the Nag Hammadi Library,” Jackman said, is an example of the historical and philosophical intrigue she hopes to ignite in others through her artwork.

After returning from Yale, Jackman apprenticed with Carl Darrow, of Greenleaf Press. Darrow, official printer to Historic Deerfield, generously shared his reverence for printing and his collection of metal type and vintage presses. Exploring the type cases, Jackman became enamored with ‘dingbats’; the finely detailed, decorative borders and embellishments for a printed page, all cast in metal. Her printmaking expanded from text into the creation of images; some examples include: “The Mandala Series,” “The Tree of Life” and “Ivy Escapes In The Night.”

Jackman purchased her own press last year and founded Wilder Hill Press on the grounds of Wilder Hill Gardens. Wilder Hill Press is a printing shop with a Charles Brand Etching Press at the center of the print shop and gallery. The entrance to the gallery area is framed by an 18 foot long, three-sided relief mosaic. Composed of hundreds of hand-cut, glazed, and fired porcelain pieces, the mosaic is a glorious tangle of vivid plant forms, animals and planets depicting the origin story of Genesis.

The walls of the space display framed prints of both new and old series, while the tryptic cabinet soars toward the open ceilings, filled with local treasures, not to be found anywhere else.

She said some things are still in the works, but she is preparing for a soft opening this spring, likely around Mother’s Day when she opens the Wilder Hill Gardens nursery for its annual opening sale.

Once up and running, Jackman said individual printmaking lessons will become available.

Artistic possibility

Excited by the artistic possibility of text and images together, Jackman spent winters exploring new techniques and styles in countries with traditions of relief printmaking. While in Granada, Nicaragua, she studied at La Sirena Taller, and learned to carve linoleum and wood, resulting in the series, Los Trabajadoros de Granada (The workers of Granada).

While studying with Moser at Smith College, one of his oft-repeated sayings was, “There are only two proper colors for letterpress printing, black and white … and in some cases red.” One of her Nicaraguan teachers said of relief printmaking, “If the image does not work in black and white, then it does not work.” Inevitably, however, the gardener and artist in Jackman gravitated toward the introduction of color to her prints.

On a trip to Nicaragua in 2013, Jackman encountered Alicia Zamora, who used her colorful prints to protest oppression and injustice. Alicia, who Jackman fondly calls, “mi Profesora Iconoclasta,” has a small gallery/studio in the bakery she runs with her husband. Fueled by good Nicaraguan coffee and tarts from the bakery, Zamora expanded Jackman’s printmaking skills to include monotype, layering and vibrant colors. Using various techniques and multiple plates, Jackman explores color in her prints, always defined by the strong framework of a ‘key block’, the original B&W image.

The winter of 2019 found Jackman in Oaxaca, Mexico, working on illustrations for her forthcoming book, “Violeta: One Dog’s Journey.” In that vibrant city with an incredible history and a press on almost every corner, Jackman observed “los perros libres,” the street dogs of Oaxaca, and learned of Xolos, the mystical dogs of Mexico. Both became crucial parts of Violeta’s origin story. The story is inspired by the life of Jackman’s real dog, Viola who came from the Dominican Republic.

Under the instruction of Federico Valdez of Cooperativa Graphica in Oaxaca, Lilian adopted the folkloric style of wood-cutting and high-relief printing that proved to be perfect for telling the story of the arduous migration of a Mexican street dog to America in the Violeta story she was working on.

The prints seen in this 2021 exhibit are a result of that collaboration.

More information on Jackman’s artwork can be found at wilderhillpress.com.

The Salmon Falls Gallery, 1 Ashfield St. in Shelburne Falls, has ‘brick and mortar gallery hours’ for “Pears, Monks & Dogs in Boats” from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays now through April 25. The exhibit can also be viewed virtually in the Salmon Falls Gallery online store at any time. More information can be found at salmonfallsgallery.com.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy