Artist etches own niche at college

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April 16, 2010

2:33 AM

Anna Wagner ’10 works methodically, buffing ink into a copper plate. Her hand moves in circles, slowly and evenly. Another student sits nearby, beveling the edges of a copper plate with some difficulty. Wagner stops and grabs a different tool from her bag and shows her fellow student how to slice the edges of the plate with greater ease.

“Isn’t that the best? It cuts it like butter,” Wagner says with palpable enthusiasm.

Wagner has many diverse interests. She plays the accordion, and performed as a part of a Nordic folk music ensemble for two years. She also has continued interest in the field of taxidermy, after working for a taxidermist for three years in high school. In addition, she is also constantly expanding her insect collection, which features a variety of moths and beetles. But out of all of her hobbies, she claims one dominant identity.

Anna is a printmaker. She said her study of the craft could be largely attributed to her heritage. Three generations of her family, from her great-grandfather to her father, have practiced the art form. However, Wagner said her work is deeply personal, and that her passion for printmaking is her own. Spending time in the studio to work on pieces independent of her class requirements, Wagner usually spends an average of nine hours on a concept drawing, and then three weeks completing the plate.

“I like artwork that demands a lot out of you,” Wagner said. “Etching is my favorite [form of printmaking], although I’ve done all types. There is nothing more beautiful than a clean piece of copper, and I want to work really hard on it, because the copper deserves it. And plus, it’s so cool to draw into metal.”

She described her work as portraying both human and animal figures and the relationship between them. Often, multiple figures are pushed together into crowd-like configurations.

“I guess what I do in terms of printmaking, it’s all about things that are lost,” she said, “I feel printmaking is a lost art, all about a forgotten past, and everybody today who looks past each other. So, when I do something like a crowd scene, I like that you’re looking at an impermeable plane¬ — you can’t see where they’re standing, or where they are.”

Although Wagner spends a great deal of time on her artwork, she said that it is difficult to explain her motivation.

“I wish I knew,” she said. “Through my work, I’m trying to understand myself. I can’t really explain. One day, when I’m a mature artist, I’ll know.”

Wagner spent this past summer working with master printmaker Serghei Tsetkov at Anderson Ranch, a studio in Aspen, Colo.

“He taught me a lot of traditional methods, and I had an assignment, but I wasn’t sure what image to make, so I just went outside and started drawing the buildings and the surrounding area,” she said.

The result was a piece she called “Donna Donna,” named for her favorite folk song to play on the accordion. The song is a melancholy tale about a calf being taken to slaughter, and the print developed from sketches of the studio into a complete diptych.

“Serghei told me that I needed another plate to go with [the calf plate], so I drew a pair of muzzled dogs. After I printed it, it was the best print I’ve ever made,” Wagner said. “Everyone loved it, since it featured the buildings on the ranch. That’s the most important thing. My work is no good, I think, if others can’t appreciate it.”

Beyond appreciation, she said that other people are an important part of her creative process, and she often consults several laypeople about her art.

“My mom is the one who has pushed me the most and the best,” Wagner said.

She also cited two friends, Margaret Smith ’10 and Robert Ressler ’10 as her sounding boards, indispensable to her creative process.

“The ideas are definitely hers, but we can offer a reaction to what she thinks and feels and offer up different ways to work it,” Ressler said. “We try to be honest and helpful. When you’re working through complex dream-like things, sometimes it doesn’t translate.”

They also claim to be some of her biggest fans, displaying her work in their own house.

“She was doing cool stuff even freshman year,” Smith said. “I really don’t know how to put her into a category. I really like the way she shows change and the passage of time.”

Back in the studio, Wagner finishes buffing the ink into the plate of the tentatively titled, “Thanks for the rocks,” a part of Wagner’s most recent project, the Bonefolder series. Named for a tool used in etching, she said the series of prints intends to metaphorically chronicle the history of printmaking.

Wagner takes the plate and moves it over to an intimidating contraption with a huge black wheel. Carefully placing the paper and the plate in place, her small frame begins to turn the wheel of the French press, which is taller than she is. Wagner said the French press is her favorite etching tool.

Wagner applied to five different graduate programs across the country. She did not receive a single rejection. She will attend Ohio University this fall.

“I have a studio in an old mental asylum,” she said, “I’m so excited.”

After Wagner heads to Athens, Ohio, some of her work will remain at the College. “Bruno,” a 300-pound bear made of mud and straw, which Wagner sculpted for a class assignment, sits in the woods by Lake Matoaka.

“We were told to make a doppelganger,” she said.

After it had been sitting in the foyer of Andrews Hall, Wagner had Bruno moved with the help of biology professor Randy Chambers and five moving men. Her alter ego now sits in the woods, near the bank of Lake Matoaka, with his head cocked inquisitively as he looks toward the water—a rather fitting representation of herself, Wagner said.

Wagner’s work is also on display closer to campus. During the Senior Show on May 3, artwork by Wagner, as well as artwork by other seniors will be on display in Andrews.

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