Ranked second in the United States since 2016, the UT Master of Fine Arts program in printmaking has spent more than two decades among the nation’s elite programs.
“We train our students to be time travelers,” says Beauvais Lyons, Chancellor’s Professor in the School of Art and the longest-serving faculty member in the program. “A student trained at UT could be transported back in time 300 years to any studio in the world and if properly dressed the only thing that would give them away is they’d most likely have better teeth.”
The training ground is UT’s 4,500-square-foot printshop, where students etch designs into metal plates, slather printing rollers with ink, and create everything from posters to fine art.
Graduate students chosen for the highly selective MFA program, as well as undergraduates, work with Lyons and two other faculty members. Associate Professor Althea Murphy-Price produces lithography and screen prints that have been featured nationally and internationally for more than a decade. Associate Professor Koichi Yamamoto, who has taken his collection of printed kites to various universities, will attend a major printmaking conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2020.
UT’s program crowns its educational offerings with the opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to participate in an annual international exchange program in Poland—the only top printmaking program in the country to do so.
Led by Lyons, who organized the first exchange in 2003 after completing a Fulbright Fellowship in Poland, the exchange sends students each May to Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design. Polish students and faculty members arrive at UT during September.
The UT professors educate students in new technology, such as InDesign and Photoshop, which are incorporated with traditional methods, from stone lithography to intaglio.
“We’re not throwing out any of the old tools,” Lyons says. “We’re just adding compartments in the toolbox for the new ones. It is what makes UT stand out. We take the approach of an English professor with Shakespeare, or a physics professor with Newtonian laws. We want our students to have tools that are both commercially relevant and historical in their use.”
This method of teaching prepares students for a wide range of careers.
Interdisciplinary artist Crystal Wagner (’08) is one of many graduates who have exhibited around the world. Her giant colorful installations made of birthday table cloths, flagging tape, chicken wire, and prints have created interactive experiences around the world and throughout the US.
“UT challenged me to consider my own work in the context of the academic realm and encouraged deep intellectual introspection as well as the opportunity to experiment,” Wagner says. “I truly appreciated the commitment to technical and intellectual investigation. If you are interested in digging deep—really deep—UT will give you an environment to do it.”
Other graduates have pursued teaching, either as elementary or high school art educators, or as faculty members at institutions including Vanderbilt University, the University of Illinois, Iowa State University, and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Several alumni have opened businesses in Knoxville offering services such as graphic design and letter press printing. Justin Helton (’07) launched Status Serigraph, a graphic design and limited-edition poster studio, that has created art for the bands Phish, the Avett Brothers, and the Black Keys, along with the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
“I began taking classes in printmaking while at UT and realized that’s what I wanted to focus on,” Helton says. “The printshop had a big impact for me. I had the tools to create whatever I wanted. It was at UT I learned how to print my posters by hand and that really helped to push my career forward.”
“Printmaking really fits with this vision of Knoxville as a maker city,” Lyons says. “Our alums have become part of the fabric of our community.”