40 years in the (print) making: Tiger Lily Press perseveres thanks to loyal volunteers and members

Although the location and participants have changed, the idea remains the same: For the past 40 years, Tiger Lily Press has worked to produce, preserve, and promote the art of printmaking.

“We’re sort of like a tribe of printmakers,” says Carole Winters, the communications manager at Tiger Lily, who has been involved on and off since its inception as both a printer, board member, and volunteer.

To celebrate their rich history, Tiger Lily will have a 40th Anniversary Exhibition at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center from August 3rd to September 14th. There will be a free opening reception on the 3rd from 6–8 p.m.

The exhibit will feature work from past and present printmakers showcasing a variety of techniques, along with artist walkthroughs and printmaking classes for teens and adults.

“We like to think we have the premier printmaking talent in the city,” she says. “A lot of people have eventually get their own presses, but then they’re still attached to our organization.”

History of Ohio’s first printmaking studio

Tiger Lily’s members and volunteers have been loyal over the years, surviving multiple venue and director changes since it first opened at the YWCA’s Women’s Art Center on September 30th, 1979.

At the time, the Women’s Art Center offered exhibition space, studio rentals, drama productions, and poetry readings, but the artists were hoping for special — an etching press. Through extensive grant writing efforts, combined with research and persistence, Kate Maynard — Tiger Lily’s first director — obtained the supplies and equipment necessary to open Ohio’s first printmaking studio, available to the public on a rental basis.

By the time the YWCA began renovations in 1982, Mary Mark was the director. She purchased the press and moved it to a loft space on Fourth and Plum streets, where they shared space Merchants co-op gallery and were able to continue operating as place where area printmakers could still rent space and find time to create.

In 1985, Mark left Cincinnati and sold the press to five local artists who moved it to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, which was great because they could use AAC’s resources and offer classes for community members. However, the AAC eventually needed more room for students, so the Cincinnati Recreation Commission helped move Tiger Lily to a temporary location in the Butterfield Recreation Center until space opened up at the Arts Building at the Dunham Recreation Center two years later. In 2011, the arts center closed and they made their move to their current location at the newly renovated Schoolhouse, also on the recreation center’s grounds.

As a bonus, the Cincinnati Recreation Center put in some specialized studio equipment they needed, like a screen washout booth, at no charge.

“These presses — it’s a lot to move this stuff,” laughs Winters. But despite the many venue changes, they’ve persevered.

A staple in the community

"Nautilus" by Jonpaul Smith

Although printmaking has become almost a lost art due, in part, to technological changes and advances in graphic design, Tiger Lily has endured due to the loyal members and volunteers, some who have been around throughout the press’s 40-year history.

“This is basically a co-op,” says Winters. “Everybody kind of works together on it, but it’s been volunteer run for 40 years.”

“It’s just a good art facility in the city,” she continues. “We offer a little bit of everything.” It’s both a transition workshop for people right out of college and a place for artists who want to do some printmaking but don’t want to go out and by a $5,000 press.

They are, however, at a turning point: In December of 2016, Tiger Lily obtained nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, which opens up a world of possibilities for local and regional classes and educational programs, plus the possibility of hiring a few paid employees.

Donor money would not only help fund a full-time shop manager and staff members, but would also allow them to reach out to area high schools that don’t have robust art departments to teach them more about printmaking before they enter college.

It’s a genuine concern, as colleges are starting to disband their printmaking departments.

“It’s very closely related to graphic design — or it was, because graphic design was basically for print media, but now all that has changed as well, also,” says Winters, who majored in printmaking and then made her way into graphic design.

“There’s community activism aspects to it — like getting the community to come in to print things — and working [on printmaking] can be also like art therapy, so it can go in a lot of directions,” she continues. “I want anyone who’s remotely interested in printmaking to know that we’re here.”

“I think the whole letter press thing is fascinating to people because it is old,” she says.

Members include everyone from full-time artists to an engineer at GE who liked to create on the side, and even served as a board member for a brief period of time.

“Part of the human experience is to make art,” she says. “So even if you’re not going to have a big career off of it … it’s just because you like to do it and it’s cool, and it’s different from other art making because it’s a process and there’s a lot of problem solving and it can be very collaborative working with other printmakers.”

“Printmaking is one of these things that if you’re exposed to it and it really clicks with you, then you’re going to do it,” she continues. “You’re going to find a way to keep it in your life. It’s persisted for a very long time, since Rembrandt.”

Those who are interested in joining are welcome to stop by the press in Price Hill, located at 4356 Dunham Lane. (Check their about page for hours.) There are a few different levels of membership, and the top one — Tiger Lily Artist — is only $175 a year and includes access to studio equipment, opportunities to exhibit and sell work, and membership to the Dunham Cincinnati Recreation Center.

In most cities, according to Winters, this kind of membership costs about $100 a month.

There’s an exhibition once a year, a print sale in the fall, and a calendar for fundraising event.

For now, Tiger Lily’s volunteers and artists are focused on the 40th anniversary event, taking place at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, which is going to create historical signage for the event and provide space for some of the board members to teach classes.

“Here we are at the 40th anniversary and we are not quite sure where we are going from here," says Winters, "other than to keep on with what we’ve been doing, looking for new opportunities, looking to the future.”

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Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.