Hendrix Magazine

The A-print-tess

Art professor brings printmaking into focus for Hendrix students

By Rob O'Connor '95

Managing Editor

As an eighth-grade student, Hendrix art professor Melissa Gill was asked to describe what kind of career she wanted to have.

"I knew it better be something I enjoy and that makes me happy," said Gill, who was already showing an inclination toward art. "Nothing changed my mind after that."

Her parents encouraged her and her twin sister to make art, often giving art supplies as gifts. Her aunt was a college art major and artist, and her great-grandmother was "a pretty great artist."

In high school, a family friend gave Gill a stack of old Interview magazines with black and white portrait photographs. She trained herself to draw by using oil pastels to reproduce those photos.

A Tucson, Ariz., native, Gill declared studio art as her major during her freshman year at the University of Arizona. She took figure drawing from a printmaking professor, who became a mentor and recommended she try printmaking.

"I really loved painting, so I had to think hard about which one I wanted to focus on," said Gill, who ultimately chose to concentrate on printmaking.

As she was perusing the photo library at the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography, Gill discovered the work of Harry Callahan, whose series of photos of his wife Eleanor inspired Gill to use photography to make prints.

"That's what made me choose printmaking over painting," said Gill, who uses photos as sources for her images.

A year later, she left the desert for the Midwest and enrolled in a two-year M.A. program at Purdue University. As a teaching assistant at Purdue, she taught beginning drawing.

After earning her master's, she enrolled in a three-year MFA program at Indiana University, where she taught beginning printmaking.

"That's when I started to really love it," said Gill, who had become comfortable in the classroom by then. "I also started to understand how my interaction with students fed my studio practice."

"When you're teaching, you go over fundamentals. As artists, we've moved beyond the fundamentals in our own practice," she said. "But it's very helpful to bring them up in our own consciousness because we can look at them in a different way."

She received her MFA from Indiana in 2000 and moved to Seattle, Wash., for three years, teaching at art centers and working part-time jobs, "some art-related, some not."

In 2003, she returned to Purdue as a one-year sabbatical replacement and did the same the following year at Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., where she taught beginning photography, printmaking, drawing and two-dimensional design. She taught conversational English in South Korea for a year before focusing her job search on college teaching.

When she interviewed at Hendrix, she was accustomed to getting to know new places. But she wasn't prepared for how well she'd like Hendrix.

"I was very impressed at my interview," said Gill, who attended the senior art major's exhibition and thought the work was "spectacular."

The college's new three-building art center, which opened in 2001, had been built with a printmaking studio. But until Gill came in fall 2008, Matthew Lopas balanced printmaking with the department's drawing and painting course sequence and other responsibilities.

"The department wanted it to be a full-time offering," she said. "It rounds out the art program because it appeals to all students. Students interested in photography, drawing, painting, they all enjoy it."

The department is beginning to see specialty printmaking students too, which is very exciting, she added.

Gill teaches wood cut in the fall and etching in the spring, all of which are available at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level. She also offers a new class in mixed media printmaking.

In the summers, she has pursued professional development opportunities, from working in a print shop in Austin, Texas, to explore photo lithography, and a summer art residency in India to learn about Indian culture and Hindu religion. She has also accompanied Hendrix students to a printmaking conference in Minneapolis, Minn., and led the senior art major practicum trip to New York City.

"Hendrix students are the best I've ever worked with," she said. "They are hardworking and incredibly smart."

She enjoys the opportunity to interact with student artists who are not art majors.

"Even if they are leaning toward other majors, they're still interested and curious about art. It's a different kind of energy compared to an art school or art center," she said. "At Hendrix, it's more dynamic. Students bring things from other classes and enrich it."

As an artist, Gill continues to look for ways to use prints and printmaking to bring awareness to environmental and global issues. To that end, she was instrumental in the founding of the Arkansas Society of Printmakers, which sponsors printmaking workshops and shows.

"Just representing and selling in a gallery is not going to do it for me," she said. "I want to focus my attention on the larger picture."