Ranked among the top five programs in the United States since the early 2000s, UT’s 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 [printmaking] 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 and Professor Koichi Yamamoto. In addition to the faculty, students engage with and assist visiting artists on individual works and large projects.
The professors educate students in technology such as Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, which are incorporated with traditional methods, from stone lithography to intaglio.
“We’re not throwing out any of the old tools,” Yamamoto 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 has exhibited her work around the world. Her giant colorful installations made of birthday table cloths, flagging tape, chicken wire, and prints have created interactive experiences throughout the United States and around the world.
“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 the University of Maryland, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 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 letterpress printing. Justin Helton (’07) launched Status Serigraph, a graphic design and limited-edition poster studio that has created art for bands Phish, the Avett Brothers, and the Black Keys, as well as 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 alumni have become part of the fabric of our community.”