print-making in the forest


Our Artist In Residence Barbara Holmes speaks of her project ….

“For my residency with the Capital City Arts Initiative (CCAI) at St. Mary’s Art Center, I have been hiking out around Spooner Lake above Carson City making “prints” of old decaying tree stumps. Many of these stumps are remnants of the forest that was clearcut during the Comstock mining era. During this time much of the eastern slope of the Sierra was denuded of trees and much of it laid underground for shoring up the mines in Virginia City.

Dan De Quille (William Wright) from his book, “The Big Bonanza”.

The Comstock Lode may truthfully be said to be the tomb of the forest of the Sierra. Millions upon millions of feet of lumber are annually buried in the mines, nevermore to be resurrected….The pine forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are drawn upon for everything in the shape of wood or lumber, and have been upon for many years. For a distance of 50 or 60 miles all the hills of the eastern slope of the Sierra have been to a great extent denuded of trees of every kind—those suitable only for wood as well as those fit for the manufacture of lumber for use in the mines.

Chinese ink rubbings (also known as inked squeezes) are an ancient Chinese method of preserving copies of important texts carved in stone. More of a “print” than a rubbing in technique, it is believed to be the precursor to block printing, the advantage being that it can be applied to any hard surface regardless of its age or location.

See link below for more info.

For me, the decaying stumps in the Sierra are much like individual tombstones of the trees that built out mines, our cities, and our nation at large. I knew I wanted to memorialize and preserve an image of these trees and the Chinese ink rubbing method seemed a good match for my project.

Before arriving at St. Mary’s I prepared by researching and teaching myself how to make a print using a tree stump in my front yard in Oakland, CA. I knew I wanted to leave “no trace” of my “printing”, so decided to alter/tweak the ancient method to suit my purpose.

I discovered mixing tempera cakes with water on a wooden board was similar to mixing Sumi ink on stone, but not permanent. For my project I made my own mixing/blotting boards and turned my own set of wood blotters (padded with cotton and wrapped with silk cloth) for applying the pigment. I purchased large rolls of Mulberry paper (similar to the traditional rice paper), a carrying tube I could strap to my back pack, spray bottle (for wetting paper and mixing boards), and nabbed my Kiwi shoe polishing brush and put it to use as a tamping brush.

Because of the long fibers in Kozo/Mulberry paper, when wet it will easily form around low reliefs in a surface by tamping down in cracks and crevices. The aged and decaying stumps around Spooner Summit have a surface that is weathered and pitted, full of voids, hills, and valleys, much like a topographic map. The corresponding prints are somewhat mysterious looking, evoking many different things for those viewing them.

The rich forest of the Eastern slope of the Sierra above the Carson Valley is now in the process of repair as nature tries to reach balance again. I feel the slowly decomposing and disappearing stumps in the Sierra are historical markers that tell us about the significance, value, and limits of our natural resources. Making these prints is an attempt to preserve them in time, serving as a reminder of the forest that once was.”






photographs by Frances Melhop

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