An Old World craft's artistic ambassador

Retreat: A Carroll County woman is traveling to Ireland to teach a centuries-old printmaking technique.

May 06, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In this fast-paced electronic age with its computer-generated visuals, Shawn M. Lockhart prints words and images following an arduous tradition that dates to the Middle Ages.

Lockhart's technique has her carving in reverse on wood blocks, or on softer linoleum "when my hands complain," she said. She then soaks the engraving in ink and prints it on heavy paper - replicating the process used centuries before the invention of the printing press.

Now with 30 years' experience in what is today a rarely used form of printmaking, Lockhart is taking her craft to Ireland. The Carroll County artist will exhibit 18 prints and teach others during a weeklong workshop at an artists' retreat in West Cork this month.

"Carting all my stuff 3,000 miles away is scary," said Lockhart, 49. "But it is the realization of a dream to me. I am hoping it will open doors. The Irish arts community, even in the most remote areas, is so incredibly supportive."

Her journey as an artist began at age 6 with a television set that she won at a church bazaar. Hoping to turn his daughter's good fortune into a family prize, her father asked what she would take in exchange.

"I asked for a box of paints," she said, smiling at a memory that is more than 40 years old.

In her teens, Lockhart switched from oils to ink and in college, studied printmaking.

"I never tire of black and white," she said. "It helps me find balance in my life."

Early European Bibles are filled with woodcuts, and Albrecht Durer, a German Renaissance artist, often used the method. In the 19th century, English poet William Blake made woodcuts to illustrate his writings. The art form went through a revival during the Victorian era and is used in many book illustrations from that time.

Lockhart, who said she has been inspired by those illustrators, has had several area exhibits. She won best in show at Westminster's Art in the Park two years ago and maintains a printing studio at her home in Union Bridge, signing her works "Mara," the Gaelic word for sea.

Now she is packing for a trip to the artists' retreat known as Anam Cara - Gaelic for "soul friend." Located on the Beara Peninsula, where nearby the Irish Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the inn offers some of Ireland's most stunning seascapes and mountain views.

She checked her Gaelic dictionary before dubbing the workshop Inspioraid, which translates to "inspiration of a divine sort," she said. Her class will hand-bind books around their own prints and poetry.

"I will show them how to do a block print of images or text, although the text will be more difficult for them to do in reverse," she said. "We will create an artist's book."

Lockhart has put several books together including Amergin - illustrated and completely hand-printed on handmade paper and sewn together with linen thread. She has made four copies that sell for $750 each.

The week promises structured teaching with "plenty of time to breathe in the inspiration from the breathtaking landscape," said Sue Booth-Forbes, an American who founded the retreat four years ago.

"This is the perfect place to work without distraction," said Booth-Forbes. "It will be interesting to see what people in this workshop produce. I am expecting a book of inspiration and illustration."

Artists like Billy Collins, America's poet laureate who is giving a second writing seminar at Anam Cara this summer, frequently organize workshops. Lockhart will be a nice fit, with her background, art and connections to her Celtic heritage, said Booth-Forbes.

During her first stay at Anam Cara last year, Lockhart carved a block print of a view of Coulagh Bay as seen from the inn, a print that now graces its signature note cards. Booth-Forbes also commissioned a woodcut for her gallery.

"Shawn really captured the beauty here, of the mountains, the green fields and the sea," said Booth-Forbes. "She has a wonderful sense of Celtic design. Her stuff comes from deep within her."

Much of Lockhart's art comes from her experiences in Ireland, where she has spent the past seven summers. Many images are self-reflections, Lockhart said.

"My son says that all the women in my prints look like me," she said. "What I have tried to show is that hope really does reside within you. Art has helped me put my life in perspective."

Nearly all her prints, which are mounted in her own hand-marbleized, soft-hued mats, reflect Lockhart's growth as an artist. There is Shy Sheela, her first print and the one that graces Lockhart's popular note cards sold at shops in Ireland. Over the years, that restrained Sheela has evolved into a wild and free spirit with flowing hair.

Lockhart plans to extend her stay in Ireland a few weeks and revisit County Clare, once home to her great-grandparents. But she will be back in Carroll County in time to give another workshop at Common Ground on the Hill, a music and arts seminar where she has taught since 1996.

"Her art is very appealing and goes beyond the Celtic thing," said Walt Michael, founder and executive director of Common Ground. "She incorporates personal statements and that is what art is supposed to be. She is showing us a soulful journey back to her Irish roots."

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