Next week the College will launch its annual Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project under the direction of Coastal Studies Artist-in-Residence Barbara Putnam and master printer Peter Pettengill

The Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project was established by artist Emily Nelligan in memory of her late husband. The project brings one printmaker from out of state each year to work with a local Maine artist in Bowdoin classrooms. This gives students the opportunity to watch professionals at work, as well as to practice pulling some prints themselves. 

As the guest of honor this year, Pettengill has worked with numerous well-known artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Walton Ford, Neil Welliver and Gideon Bok. 

On Monday, Pettengill gave a lecture in the Beam Classroom on his experience as a master printer and collaborator. Although his work is process intensive, he does not consider himself an artist. Rather, he works to help artists realize their creative goals through print. 

“I would never claim any of this work as my own,” he said.  “Though it could not come to be without my help…this process is called collaboration.”

Pettengill works most often with painters, and emphasizes the distinctness of his work from theirs. 

“Making prints is not the same as painting,” he said. “There is process; things slow down.”

Pettengill began his work in California at the Crown Point Press in 1979 and returned to New Hampshire in 1985 to found Wingate Studio, where he continues to work today. Many artists bring their work directly to his studio and etch under his supervision.  

This spring, Pettengill will assist Barbara Putnam in Bowdoin’s printmaking studio. Putnam teaches two printmaking courses and will be practicing etching in class with Pettengill’s help. 

Putnam, who is primarily a woodblock printer, had never etched before the collaboration began. 

“It opened up a whole other avenue for me as an artist,” she said, “like all of a sudden working with your left hand when you’ve always worked with your right.” 

She says she is excited to begin working in front of her class, though she admits to feeling a little jittery about the attention she will receive. 

“This is their revenge for homework,” she said.

Putnam will sketch and etch her piece, and then Pettengill will help her with color and printing. She describes Pettengill’s role in the process as having “a sense of directing, almost like stage direction. It’s a wonderful experience of removing my guesswork.”

Pettengill says he is glad to help out in any way he can.

Printmakers “are used to being the background people and are proud of what they do,” he said. His work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, the Fogg Museum, the Library of Congress and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other venues.

Pettengill says that the printmaking process is more methodical and time-consuming than many other art mediums, and because of these, he only produces three or four pieces a year.

With this in mind, Pettengill’s relatively short residency as Bowdoin could pose a procedural challenge. 

“One of the difficulties in college print workshops is the shortness of time,” he said.

Reflecting upon a completed project at Smith College, he said, “It was a kind of miracle… it always is, I think.”

Pettengill has also collaborated with printers at Amherst College and the Hartford Art School. 

Pettengill and Putnam acknowledge that  their collaboration will be a teaching and learning experience for both of them. Each is an expert of their craft, yet they must cooperate in order to produce successful prints. 

“I don’t think I can say enough about the amount of faith it takes to go through this process,” said Pettengill. 

Despite the inevitable difficulties of collaboration, Putnam says she feels ready for the challenge. 

“I say ‘super!’ It’s a totally new experience.”