Tamarind Institute Goes Global

Founded in 1960,
Tamarind Institute trains fine art lithographers who have, in turn,
created important print shops throughout the country

Printmaking is an ancient art. Nearly 3000 years ago, Mexico's Olmec Indians printed designs from clay stamps onto bark paper and, approximately 1000 years later, the Chinese began to stamp words on paper. Today printmaking is enjoying a renaissance; it has become a key element in the expressive vocabulary of contemporary art.

Printmaking owes a great deal of its renewed vitality to one of New Mexico's art treasures: Albuquerque's Tamarind Institute. Tamarind is internationally known for the central role it has played in the renaissance of fine art lithography in the US and, increasingly, throughout the world.

Tamarind Chop

The Tamarind Institute is committed to sustaining and expanding collaborative fine art lithography. Its programs include the production, sales and exhibition of artists' lithographs; a unique professional training program which leads to Master Printer certification; collaborative lithography workshops for artists, printers and teachers; research and publication of books, videos and The Tamarind Papers journal.

Tamarind's first 25 years were devoted to printmaking in the US It was founded in 1960 in Los Angeles and has been affiliated with the University of New Mexico's College of Fine Arts since 1970. By the time Tamarind celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1985, significant progress had been made toward its goal of establishing lithography as a respected medium in the US By 1985 it had become increasingly difficult to name a major contemporary American artist who hadn't at least experimented with printmaking. First—or even second—generation Tamarind-trained printers staffed many of the nearly 200 professional print workshops in the US that developed during Tamarind's first 25 years. The Tamarind Book of Lithography had become the standard technical reference found in printmaking studios not only in the US but also from Moscow to Mexico City.

Since 1985, Director Marge Devon has spearheaded Tamarind's new focus on international activities. The modest headquarters are a few doors down from the Frontier Restaurant on what used to be Route 66. Anyone who steps past the deceptively bland exterior of the building might be surprised at the buzz of activity within: In the gallery, visitors receive personal assistance as they peruse the prints, books, videotapes and—of course—T-shirts for sale. In the press room, teams of artists and printmakers from Latin America create lithographs with expert assistance from master printers. In the office, one staff member edits catalog copy while another meets with an executive whose agency supports Tamarind's international programs. Everywhere, there are prints: on the walls, in bins, on tables, stacked on the floor.

A map of Latin America is tacked on the door of Director Devon's office. Someone has written "La invasion litografica de Tamarindo" on it. Inside her office, a box overflows with samples of work by Brazilian artists. The table is piled with Tamarind catalogs—the Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Slavic editions. "Sometimes I think we're better known in Russia and Rio than we are in New Mexico," says Devon. She has logged countless air miles as an art ambassador to nurture the growth of collaborative lithography beyond US borders. "Tamarind's philosophy has always been that four hands are better than two," she says.

Under Devon's leadership, the concept of collaboration has been applied not only to the teamwork of artist and printer, but also to funding partnerships. These innovative financial partnerships are the foundation for an expanding network of artists and art organizations on every continent (" . . . except Antarctica," she adds). Through this network, artists and art professionals in the US and more than 30 other countries engage in an outgoing aesthetic dialogue.

Tamarind's international artistic collaborations have included workshops, exhibitions, publications, lectures and consultation. For example, Mexico Nueve, a collaboration funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, enabled nine Mexican artists to make lithographs at Tamarind and to show these works both in New Mexico and at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Then these works were combined with three paintings by each artist to form an exhibit that circulated to ten US institutions and won a national design award for its bilingual catalog.

Since 1986, two exhibitions under the auspices of the USIA's Arts Americas program have toured 29 countries on three continents. Tamarind Impressions: Recent Lithographs circulated 40 prints made by 29 artists and Tamarind printers to Europe, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and India. Collaborations: Artists + Printers exhibited 48 lithographs by 28 artists and printers in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, winning a critics' award for best exhibition in the region.

In addition to exhibitions and publications, Tamarind has been involved in person-to-person cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union of Artists since 1986. These exchanges have included staff visits to Moscow, Leningrad and Estonia and reciprocal opportunities for Russian graphic artists and printmakers to work at Tamarind in Albuquerque. They have been made possible by funds from the Albuquerque Community Foundation, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, individual supporters, and the Soviet Union of Artists.

In 1990 and 1991, International Workshop Exchanges, funded by the USIA Office of Citizen Exchanges, made it possible for artists from India, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Venezuela to participate in month-long creative workshops at Tamarind and, then, to host lithography workshops at their own schools and universities. Most recently, Creative Collaboration, a Latin American printmaking project, brought printer-painter teams from Brazil, Chile and Colombia to Albuquerque for month-long workshops in the summer of 1993, to be followed by workshops in their home countries. In 1994, Tamarind combined forces with the University of New Mexico's "Arts of the Americas" program and the City of Albuquerque to sponsor a series of exhibitions, courses and festivities honoring the art of Brazil.

Opportunities to explore lithography and to interact with artists and art professionals from other countries enrich the participants and expand the boundaries of contemporary printmaking. When the history of post-Cold War cultural exchange is written, surely Tamarind Institute will be credited with pioneering a highly effective model for international artistic collaboration. And in an era of shrinking arts dollars, Tamarind deserves special recognition for combining creativity with entrepreneurial spirit to develop innovative funding partnerships which help to expand the appreciation of the magic of lithography throughout the world.

The Tamarind's distinctive "chop," pictured above, derives from the alchemist's symbol for stone and, indeed, alchemy comes to mind when reflecting on the Institute's fulfillment of its mission.

Tamarind Institute remote site
University of New Mexico
108 Cornell Dr SE
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Phone: 505-277-3901
E-mail: tamarind@unm.edu

By Cathryn Keller Nestor writes and makes films about the visual arts, including the new video "Down to Earth: The Story of Adobe in New Mexico."

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Albuquerque Metro Area - Volume 8

Related Pages

Tamarind Institute:
A Dynamic Past and a Promising Future

Reproduction or Print:
What's the Difference?

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LAST MODIFIED September 24, 2007

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