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Abbey Blake will also serve residencies in Maine and Chile
By Carolyn Jack
Student artist Abbey Blake started out wanting to help people understand the science of nature. Before long, she realized she would rather show them the beauty.
Blake, who will graduate from the Cleveland Institute of Art on May 17, has become so adept at revealing nature’s beauty that the Cleveland printmaking organization Zygote Press has awarded her its 2014-15 Emerging Artist Fellowship, a three-month residency that gives selected artists open access to the Zygote printing shop, including materials, equipment, and locker and flat-file storage, as well as discounts on classes and workshops. In addition, one of her prints will be included in the Zygote archive.
The fellowship adds to the growing list of recognitions and opportunities that Blake has earned for her work in a spectrum of different media ranging from encaustic painting to photography and enamels. Her most recent pieces are installations made of cut paper shaped to suggest lacy, frond-like sea creatures and plants.
Her hope for the Zygote residency is “to make a lot of work,” she said.
Liz Maugans, executive director of Zygote Press, sees the fellowship, which is awarded through an application and panel-review process, as a “great transition” for graduates because it gives them the opportunity to work with other professional artists and to use equipment that might not have been available at their schools.
“These residency awards and acceptance into an archive collection look great on resumes for fresh grads who don't have a lot of experience,” Maugans wrote in an email. The fellowships help spread the word among artists that Zygote has useful facilities for them, she added.
Plus, they create a local brain gain. “Many students who received this grant have come back and used it while they are visiting parents or have come for other residency opportunities much later,” Maugans noted.
Blake regards the work she will do at Zygote as a return to more traditional approaches than she has been using lately, but with the same artistic goal: “Ultimately, to give people an experience that’s natural, but beautiful. To a degree, I’m trying to appreciate nature through printmaking,” she added.
She grew up in Burton, Ohio, a small town situated among fields and woods, where the influences of her surroundings and the artistic and scientific inclinations of her mother – a nurse – and grandmother, encouraged her to observe the world closely and also to sketch it, drawing “every single leaf,” as Blake recalls her mother saying. Not surprisingly, she got involved in Biomedical Art when she enrolled at CIA.
“Biomedical Art was incredible and I really loved it as a program,” Blake said, pointing out that it taught her the value of technical detail and fine rendering skills.
But she found herself wanting something else. While engaged in a project that had her creating work about the homes in some of Cleveland’s economically depressed neighborhoods, Blake had something of a revelation: Though she found such work both worthwhile and important, it was also sad, and she realized that she wanted to create art that made people feel better, not worse.
She switched out of Biomedical Art and was studying digital printmaking, exploring photography, making paper through an internship at Cleveland’s Morgan Conservatory of Papermaking and Book Arts, learning laser-cutting at Case Western Reserve University’s Think Box lab, teaching herself encaustic painting, then enameling.
“It’s been really interesting to watch her grow,” said her CIA Printmaking Department Chair Maggie Denk-Leigh, over the phone recently. After changing to the Printmaking major, “she spent a lot of time catching up, made more work that the typical student, and that created a really good momentum for her.”
Though Blake has had other rewards, including – just this year – tying for first place in an art competition sponsored by Dealer Tire and winning Grand/Purchase Prize and Best of Craft awards from CIA in the Student Independent Exhibition (SIE), Denk-Leigh thinks the Zygote fellowship represents the first real, professional recognition of Blake’s work, a validation of her work ethic, her ability to look ahead and her role at Zygote, where Blake had been volunteering in the shop before her selection for the award.
To Denk-Leigh, Blake has proved that she’s a go-getter. “She’s been in several shows already this year, which speaks to her commitment to what she’s doing,” the professor said, adding with humor, “and she’s pretty humble.”
One of those shows was this spring at Juma Gallery, located up the hill from CIA in the Cleveland neighborhood of Little Italy and also in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, where Blake also works as an assistant. Owner Erica Weiss first met Blake at the Morgan Conservatory a year and a half ago and liked her immediately.
“Adorable – so fun and so cute,” Weiss said. “I was really impressed with how she sort of found her passion. I love the fact that she’s using this really organic material and merging it with technology. It’s so beautiful, and it shows her personality through it.”
Though she has been making and shaping paper more than putting images on it lately, Blake is excited at the prospect of creating editions of traditional prints at Zygote, including Chine-collé. She’s also looking forward to an upcoming residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, a summer artists’ colony in Maine, and another in Chile, offered by Ivan Lecaros, an artist who got to know Blake at Zygote in 2013 while he was in residency there as part of the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program and taught at CIA weekly.
She hopes eventually to make a living as a fine artist. “I’m definitely like an opportunist,” she said with a laugh, but is clearly serious about her work and the effort she knows it will take to get shows and sell pieces. And she knows CIA has given her a good start.
“CIA has been fantastic,” Blake declares. “They give students a lot of showing opportunities. And Cleveland is just an incredible place to network. But you definitely have to pursue a lot on your own.”
Above: Abbey Blake at her BFA presentation.
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