Art

Timeless printmaking

For El Rito artist Betsy Peirce, peeling off a fresh print is pure magic

By Anna Racicot
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 6/19/19

Betsy Peirce has a somewhat unique appreciation for art in the Taos area. She much admires the Taos Founders, particularly Herbert Dunton and E. Martin Henning, but through her work as assistant to …

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Art

Timeless printmaking

For El Rito artist Betsy Peirce, peeling off a fresh print is pure magic

Posted

Betsy Peirce has a somewhat unique appreciation for art in the Taos area. She much admires the Taos Founders, particularly Herbert Dunton and E. Martin Henning, but through her work as assistant to the curator of the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation, she also became immersed in organizing their collections, giving her a broader view of the art in Taos Valley. As a printmaker Peirce naturally was drawn to the etchings of Taos artist Gene Kloss, noted for her scenes of Taos Pueblo, stating that Kloss "is the ideal I aspire to."

Peirce has lived her life in the world of art, both creating fine art, marketing cards and artistic magnets. Primarily a printmaker, her experiences have led her along an artistic path since childhood, with her mother encouraging and offering her opportunities.

Originally from Albuquerque, Peirce took many studio courses while earning a degree in art history from the University of New Mexico. Although Peirce has traveled broadly, she has lived in El Rito since the 1970s.

After seeing Peirce's prints of Ute Mountain or of a boy on a horse in a pond in Lama, "Niklas Swims, a Haflinger," a viewer may well feel Peirce's work places her in that group of artists inspired by Taos, its history, its cultures, and the beauty of the natural world here and who have rendered that beauty in forms which encourages others to see it in a new way.

"As a little kid," Peirce said, in an interview, "I always drew." The house she grew up in had quite a bit of art displayed in it and Peirce's mother made crafts, including knitting doll sweaters. Her grandparents, who were from Mexico, brought "lots of Mexican art and antiques" into her life, influencing her sense of color.

Her Albuquerque high school art teacher, Frank McCullough, Pierce said, "was a great influence." She also attended an alternative high school where she subsequently was introduced to figure drawing before college.

"I was always attracted to prints," Peirce said, and when the University of New Mexico-Taos first opened its doors and offered a printmaking course, she signed up. Peirce has been making prints now for about 20 years. "It's kind of a magical thing, peeling the paper off and seeing what's there."

"A lot of the photographs I use are from Wyman's … He's a good photographer." The solar plate etching, "Niklas Swims, a Haflinger," uses one of her partner Wyman Edwards' photographs and shows Peirce's fascination with the contrasts of light and dark as well as with that reference to the images of a bygone era. Her monoprints such as "Snowy Fence Line" and "Chama River Bend" also give the viewer the feeling of a certain kind of timelessness or classic touch.

Peirce's etchings are commonly done on a copper plate, using ferric chloride which "eats copper," but is a safer alternative to acids traditionally used. With etching, Peirce has done editions of 24. In contrast, with monoprints, there is really only one print, though a second, lighter, "ghost" print can also be made. The process of making monoprints starts with a plexiglass plate. Said Peirce, "You think about it backwards. It's built up from the top." After the image is created, the plate is inked up with brush or rollers.

Peirce has also worked with solar etchings, which uses "plates treated with light sensitive film." The process involves drawing on glass or plastic and then exposing the film in a light box. This process allows "multiple drops" from the original.

Peirce described the technical aspects of printmaking as the most challenging with one of the most difficult aspects being just "needing so much equipment to do printmaking." Peirce enjoyed the Ventero Press in San Luis when it was available to printmakers.

Taos, she said, does have print shows. Pressing On, a group of local printmakers, usually organizes shows once or twice a year at the Stables Gallery.

Although prints are Peirce's main focus, she also sees herself painting more in oils, which in contrast to the more exacting media of etchings and monoprints, allows her to express her subjects, from animals, plants, and nature, in a looser, more casual way.

Peirce appreciates well-composed pieces and likes to see a "contrast of values." She also finds herself attracted to an "old-fashioned look, a graphic old poster look," and images from the 1930s and '40s. She uses these in her magnets and said, "I know what will sell, bright, catchy," and with a vintage or antique look.

Peirce shows at The Ranch at Taos Gallery, 119A Kit Carson Road, and will participate in the Wild Rivers Plein Air Festival, July 16-21. She also plans to show her work in the Questa Studio Tour in August. She can be contacted at betsypeirce.taos@gmail.com or by calling (575) 586-1685 or 779-3794.

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