The Tamarind Institute
A Dynamic Past and a Promising Future

Lithography: The process of printing from a metal plate or a flat surface of stone.
The image, created by the artist with special materials, is ink-receptive and the blank areas are ink-repellant.
The ink is then transferred to a sheet of paper by running it through a press.


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Although many may not realize it, Albuquerque, NM is home to an internationally renowned institute which has, for more than forty years, led the movement to establish lithography as a respected and innovative fine art form. Tamarind Institute came into being in 1960 as the result of an irresistible proposal to the Ford Foundation by determined and tenacious artist June Wayne. Wayne understood the vast potential of lithography as a unique art form and was concerned by its widespread disrepute in the art world — printmaking was often seen as either a hobbyist's medium or as a means to reproduce paintings.

Wayne identified three major problems that hindered the development of lithography in the United States:

  1. the lack of skilled master printers to assist artists in the creation of prints

  2. the absence of organized institutions where printers and artists could
    collaborate in the creative process

  3. an insufficient market for original prints.

In the past forty years, Tamarind Institute has addressed these problems by tackling many of the issues outlined by Wayne in her initial proposal to the Ford Foundation. Over the years, the Institute has trained hundreds of master printers, endowing them with the skills to help artists translate their ideas into lithography. Tamarind-trained printers have also established studios throughout the country in which artists and printers can collaborate and explore the nearly unlimited potential of lithography. An important step taken by the Institute has been to emboss the master printer's "chop," or personalized symbol, on each print, giving credit to the printer for his or her distinctive contribution to the artwork.

Equally important in establishing the validity of lithography as a fine art has been Tamarind's effective use of publicity, documentation, and international reach. Books and videos, along with a journal called The Tamarind Papers, have spread information about lithography to the art world and to the worldwide public. The process of documentation was initiated by Tamarind's second director and noted artist, Clinton Adams. As a result, relevant details about every print created at Tamarind are recorded. Thus, art collectors and historians will always be able to find out when, where, and by whom a series was printed (with most prints from earlier periods, we can only guess about much of this basic information).

Image: © 2000 Thamae Setshogo
"Antbear and Acacia Tree"
One-color lithograph with handcoloring
11" x 15" / Ed 50

The Present and the Future

Led by its current director, Marjorie Devon, Tamarind Institute has expanded its international reach, seeking to establish the tradition of collaborative lithography in many different cultural contexts. Tamarind has organized lithography exhibitions and workshops across the world, from Asia to Latin America. Many artists and artisans come from around the world to work with the master printers at the Institute's headquarters in Albuquerque.

Recently, Tamarind had great success with a collaborative project involving folk artists of the San people from Botswana, Africa, and Native American artists from various pueblos in New Mexico.

The project centered around an intriguing similarity between Native American and African folklore: the figure of the Trickster, a powerful force in both storytelling cultures. In this project, the artists all visited New Mexico pueblos and then convened at Tamarind to make lithographs together. Working side-by-side in the shop, the artists created a stunning series of hand-colored prints. The prints by the San artists are strikingly different from those by the Native American artists, however all are linked by their origin in the rich storytelling traditions of both cultures. As Marjorie Devon describes it, the experience was magical: both groups of people learned in extraordinary ways and formed strong friendships despite the absence of direct verbal communication because of language disparity.

Devon is currently exploring the potential for a new Tamarind program in Chile.   The main goal of this project would be to develop a greater appreciation of, and market for, original lithography in Chile: an objective similar to Tamarind's initial goals in the United States. Also, Chilean teachers of lithography would visit Tamarind to work with printers and artists from the United States and other parts of the world. This project would create an arena for fascinating cross-cultural dialogue and artistic growth.

In addition to its outreach in the international arena, Tamarind Institute recently has been exploring the potential of digital technologies. Because the process of original printmaking is so complex and time-consuming, it can be risky for an artist to experiment wildly with color combinations that might prove unsuccessful. Thus, computers can be used as creative tools, allowing unusual color combinations and innovative stylistic choices to be tested freely, without wasting large amounts of time and precious materials.

Image: ©2000 Clinton Adams
One-color lithograph with chine collé
16" x 25" / Ed 20

Despite the accessibility of computers, Tamarind and its artists remain dedicated to the traditional methods of hand-pulled lithography. Prints at Tamarind are always created by the artist and the printer working together directly with the stone or metal plate. Although quicker, less expensive digital methods can imitate the process of traditional printmaking, these methods fail to capture the uniqueness of traditional prints; they lack the sense of immediacy, vibrancy, and layered depth which are so beautifully expressed in hand-pulled lithographs. Therefore, Tamarind continues in its mission to preserve and promote traditional,  fine-art lithography.

As confirmation of Tamarind Institute's great success in its mission, one needs only to look at the résumés of established contemporary painters and sculptors: the vast majority of these artists have spent time making prints. Such widespread use of lithography would not have been possible without the master printers trained by Tamarind during the past forty years and the prestige that the Institute has helped bring to lithography. Due in large part to the Tamarind Institute's efforts, the great potential which is latent in print mediums has been explored and exploited by hundreds of artists and master printers . . . and appreciated by thousands of art-lovers.

Tamarind Institute and its gallery of changing shows of lithography is open to the public.

Tamarind Institute remote
University of New Mexico
108-110 Cornell Drive SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
Phone: 505-277-3901

Thanks to Annie P Michaelis

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 15

Related Pages

Contemporary Lithography article
Glossary of Prints & Original Graphic Terms article
What is a Monotype? article

Works of Art on/of Paper article
Reproduction or Print: What's the Difference? article
Tamarind Art Institute Goes Global article

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