Tamarind's 50th Birthday

Celebrating the Past
and Looking Toward the Future with a New Building


Since its founding in Los Angeles 50 years ago, Tamarind Institute has transformed fine art lithography. Today, internationally renowned artists and students come to the current location in Albuquerque to work with master printers.
The institute is celebrating 50 years of innovation with a move away from the cramped, dark space on Cornell Street to a bright new space at the corner of Central and Stanford. Gone will be the tiny exhibition space, the difficult-to-find entrance and the sun-deprived room where the institute’s master printer worked. When asked what he is looking forward to most about the new building, Tamarind master printer Bill Lagattuta says without hesitation, “Light!”

Marjorie Devon, Tamarind’s director, recently gave their student printer cohort a tour through the new building, now a busy construction site. Sporting hard hats with Tamarind logos, they bubbled with excitement. There will be space for a large student work studio, a public art project, stone and print storage, a new master printer’s studio, a large gallery space—and yes, there will be light, pouring across Tamarind’s amazing collaborations.

Devon’s goals for new space are 1) to create more room for their students to work, and 2) to increase Tamarind’s visibility. The public will have a chance to watch prints being made from the street, an effective way to educate passersby. Dreams for the future include more artist lectures, community events and the rare opportunity of showing artists’ lithographs in conjunction with their other work, revealing how they expand into the realm of lithography. “It is an incredibly beautiful technique,” says Devon. Artists can “create a whole set of marks and effects that can’t be made any other way.”

In fine art lithography, an artist draws an image on a flat surface. Tamarind has one of the best collections of limestones in the world, but aluminum plates are also used. After the drawing is completed, the master printer chemically treats parts of the image so that they will retain ink, and non-image areas to repel ink, then the master printer prints a limited number of impressions from the image the artist drew on the stone or plate. The relationship between artist and printer, which makes the complex process of lithography accessible to artists, is at the heart of Tamarind’s mission and history.

Lithography was invented in 1798 by Johann Alois Senefelder, a German playwright who couldn’t afford to publish his plays. At first, lithography was used for commercial purposes and to make inexpensive copies of artists’ paintings. Its potential as a fine art medium was only beginning to be explored.

Before Tamarind’s inception, most master printers were in Europe. In the 1950s, Tamarind founder June Wayne had to travel to Paris to work with one of the world’s best, Marcel Durassier. As Wayne describes him, “he inked like a conductor leading a waltz.” At first, they ran “headlong into opposition over even the smallest inventions of (her) own.” Durassier would “bet it couldn’t be pulled, grumbled that (she) would never be right.” Eventually there was an apologetic tug at Wayne’s sleeve. “Tu as raison. Je m’excuse, June.” As Wayne says, “That was a watershed. We never fought again.” Instead, they discussed the future of lithography.

Architectural drawing of Tamarind’s
new facility near the UNM campus

Wayne birthed her dream with the head of the Ford Foundation, W. McNeil Lowry. Concerned that lithography was an endangered species, Wayne compared it to “the whooping crane.” In 1960, she identified three major problems that hindered the development of lithography in the United States: a lack of skilled master printers, a lack of organized institutions for artists/master printers to collaborate, and an insufficient market for original prints. With the help of the Ford Foundation, Wayne founded Tamarind Institute in Los Angeles to address these concerns. At the time, there were only a handful of print shops across the U.S. At last count, there were several hundred, staffed primarily with Tamarind trained printers.

Clinton Adams, the second director of Tamarind, moved the center to the University of New Mexico, increasing scholarship, publication and understanding of the medium. Devon, Tamarind’s third and current director, initiated inspiring collaborations throughout the globe and with indigenous peoples. Tamarind is responsible for the definitive book on lithography technique, Tamarind Techniques for Fine Art Lithography, written by Devon with Lagattuta and Rodney Hamon, in 2008.

Jim Dine Blue Taco
1-color, 5 plate lithograph with hand coloring
Collaborating printer, Bill Lagattuta Edition 10

And what of the next 50 years? Devon explains that we have come full circle. Lithography is once again in danger of extinction. The medium, which is process-oriented, requires patience. Over the last 10 years, many artists have abandoned lithography in order to explore printmaking possibilities afforded by computers. Devon says some of these artists are coming back to the “touch of the hand,” “the kiss of paper on stone.”

In order to ensure the future, Tamarind will continue to foster an intimate relationship between artist and printer. As Adams describes it, “Artists can have many reasons for choosing one printer over another: not only his—or more recently, her—skills but also temperamental compatibility (call it personal chemistry), which can be a crucial factor in a collaborative relationship.”


Tamarind sets up two-week residencies for artists to create lithographs at Tamarind. A visit to Lagattuta’s studio reveals how closely the master printer works with the artists, distilling what is unique about their technique and “thinking through” how the artist can take advantage of the medium.

Lagattuta shows me a drawing created by a recent resident artist on a large limestone, and the series of impressions he printed from the stone. The artist discovered the beauty of how ink washes evaporate on the stone, to achieve a special pattern with delicate lines. Another artist learned how layering transparent inks could help expand the range of color. Advanced students work under Lagattuta’s tutelage to create precise, exquisite results.

For Tamarind’s 50th anniversary, a ribbon cutting will be held for the new building on July 1, 50 years to the day from Tamarind’s opening in Los Angeles. September 10-12 will be their “Fabulous at Fifty Birthday Bash,” a weekend symposium including reunions, parties and panel discussions. Special guests include renowned artists Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha. Tamarind will inaugurate two exhibits opening on September 10: the didactic “Stepping Stones: Prints and Process,” curated by Tamarind’s gallery director, Arif Khan, and the retrospective “Tamarind Touchstones, Fabulous at Fifty: Celebrating Excellence in Fine Art Lithography,” organized by Tamarind in cooperation with the University of New Mexico Art Museum, which will subsequently travel in the United States.

Happy Birthday, Tamarind!



Elaine Avila is a playwright and art critic, and is the Robert F. Hartung Endowed Chair of Dramatic Writing at the University of New Mexico.

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 24

Related Pages

Tamarind Institute -
A Dynamic Past & a Promising Future

Conserving Works of Art on Paper article

Tamarind Goes Global article

Contemporary Lithography article

Collector’s Resources


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