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‘Tell All’: Marie Ulmer at U Arts and an exhibition of broadsides by 15 small presses at Kelly Writers House

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October 3, 2009   ·   1 Comments

Marie Ulmer detail of a record cover for Mendelssohn ’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’    gouache

92-year old Fishtown resident, Marie Ulmer, studied at Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Design, the predecessor of University of the Arts, and was a long-time illustrator at the Free Library. Tell All, which can be seen through Oct. 14 at U Arts’ 817 Gallery (on the 8th floor of the Anderson Building, 222 S. Broad St.) is her first solo exhibition, and long overdue.

Detail of a grade school self-portrait by Marie Ulmer, pencil and watercolor

Detail of a grade school self-portrait by Marie Ulmer, pencil and watercolor

The small exhibition focusing on her early work was organized by U Arts alumnae Candace Karch and Janel Rivera Frey who have taken on the job of cataloging Ulmer’s work.  It begins with a hand full of grade-school drawings including one particularly haunting pencil and watercolor self-portrait on lined writing paper (above).  Three later self-portraits show a similarly serious young woman with sharp features and a notable gap between her front teeth.

Marie Ulmer Self-Portrait   c.1941    gouache

Marie Ulmer Self-Portrait c.1941 gouache

The bulk of the work was produced during her time at art school and just afterward and includes portraits, self-portraits, a number of illustrations and several prints.  The later include two charming wood engravings, one an ex libris plate. The illustrations have the romantic style common to picture-books of the 1940s.  Ulmer favors figures in movement and atmospheric landscapes, real or imagined.  In one, untitled illustration two horses gallop through a star-flecked sky as a young woman plays guitar for a child who has just noticed a tiny being (a fairy?) in the foreground.

Marie Ulmer detail of a record cover for Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’    gouache

Marie Ulmer detail of a record cover for Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ gouache

The most complex is an lp record cover for Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The foreground is filled with details of life on the forest floor: speckled mushrooms, a snake, caterpillars and butterflies.  A group of tow-headed maidens dance in a circle in the middle ground, observed by several supernatural beings, and two couples in period dress inhabit the background.

Let’s hope these are just the first of the surprises to come from Ulmer’s studio.

Limited edition poster for' Poems/Posters; fifteen small presses' at Kelly Writer’s House

Limited edition poster for' Poem/Posters; fifteen small presses' at Kelly Writers House

Broadsides are printed with text on one side only and were originally intended to be posted in public, rather like flyers or posters.  In modern form they have become a genre favored by practitioners of letterpress (the sort of type used by Guttenberg, which is experiencing a revival of sorts) and are usually produced in limited editions.  Some have illustrations accompanying the text and the form is particularly suited to poetry.

Megan O’Connell (l.)  talks with KWH curator Kaegan Sparks at the 'Poems/Posters' fair

Megan O’Connell (l.) talks with KWH curator Kaegan Sparks at the 'Poems/Posters' fair

On Tuesday, Sept. 29 Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania held a fair of work from some of the fifteen presses from across the country represented in the exhibition Poem/Posters, which continues through Oct.  30, 2009. The presses used a variety of means and effects, including handmade paper created from a poet’s tee shirts, hand-written texts, and a variety of expressive layouts.

Megan O’Connell  detail of a broadside based on the writing of Luce Irigaray

Megan O’Connell detail of a broadside based on the writing of Luce Irigaray

Two of the artists came with their wares: Megan O’Connell of Dead Skin Press, Portland, ME and Aaron Cohick of NewLights Press, Oakland, CA, and of all the presses theirs pushed the broadside format and printing technique to the fullest.  O’Connell is a long-time friend and I’ve watched through the years as she mulls over texts which interest her and interprets them with typography, layout and the occasional image. Her broadside based on Luce Irigaray’s words about woman’s self-creation and search for form (above) is paired with an ink-blot created from spit and pigment which looks remarkably like the female reproductive organs.  In the exhibition O’Connell is showing six from an eventual 33 double-page spreads of Agile Reactions: 33 Bean Games by Alison Knowles, which the two have collaborated on.

Aaron Cohick of NewLights Press

Aaron Cohick of NewLights Press

Aaron Cohick brought a variety of editioned and unique books to the fair and is exhibiting three broadsides based on a complex technique in which he uses letterpress to create a template then cuts the background paper away from the letter-forms which become inked through handling with inky fingers.  Cohick thinks through type.  Several of his books and broadsides deal with the tension between printing and erasure and his must be one of the rare presses which employs exacto knives as readily as type.

detail,  ‘91% Battery Power Remaining’ (2009) New Lights Press with text by Justin Sirois

detail, ‘91% Battery Power Remaining’ (2009) New Lights Press with text by Justin Sirois

Kelly Writers House was giving away the limited edition, letterpress poster (above) created to announce the exhibition, and if you get there in time, may be offering them still.

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One Response to “‘Tell All’: Marie Ulmer at U Arts and an exhibition of broadsides by 15 small presses at Kelly Writers House”

  1. [...] Fallon and Libby Rosof’s artblog offers up a taste of the current letterpress exhibit, “Poems/Posters,” which is up at the Kelly Writers House. It features broadsides that [...]

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