For museum visitors, it’s not every day you see a steamroller in front of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art on a Saturday morning, much less one making art prints.
While the steamroller wasn’t the hulking kind you picture in your head from past encounters with street construction, this one was only a little bigger than a golf cart—it made quite an imprint on the gathered crowd as it rolled over an inked woodblock as a makeshift printmaking press.
The printmaking activity came together through the work of the School of Art & Design from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, faculty and artists Gina Gwen Palacios, Noel Palmenez, Jesse Burciaga and current student Cecilia Sierra with funding from the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art. Hosted by UTRGV, the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art and the Vaquerito Press, the event works to provide a community space for printmaking with people of all skill levels.
While visitors could gather around the steamroller to watch it make prints from the 11 unique designs on the 32 by 44-inch blocks, they could also take a stab at printmaking with tables offering smaller linocut prints to hand ink and press. Attendees also brought t-shirts or other fabric to get a free silkscreen design to take home as a souvenir of the day.
Cecilia Sierra says the event started gathering steam a year ago after she attended the Ranch Hand Weekend in Kingsville, Texas. The annual event has a steamroller printmaking activity through Texas A&M University- Kingsville. She said watching how the community engaged with their university artists made her see the possibilities of hosting a similar community art event in her city.
“I saw how the community came together, and since it is with their local university, I felt like it was possible to recreate it here,” Sierra said.
Since the spring semester, intermediate and advanced printmaking students and faculty have been working hard, designing and carving the large blocks needed for the event, which can take anywhere from 60 to 70 hours to finish.
Noel Palmenez says that, in the process, students and faculty were given a lot of freedom in their designs, leading to a wide range of subjects from SpaceX to the Virgin of Guadalupe to scenes of life in Brownsville.
“We asked them to put a lot of thought into it,” Palmenez said.
During the event, each steamroller woodblock design gets two prints made, one for the museum to auction and the other for the artist to keep or sell.
73-year-old Bobbette Morgan of Los Fresnos came with a friend to see what local artists were doing at the university. She expressed her surprise with the size and quality of prints that the steamroller made during the event.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Morgan said.
While the event offers a novel experience for visitors, it also serves another function—to highlight printmaking as a field of study at the university and as a way to provide a venue for local artists to show the community their work.
“I see the event as a good start to create more community events for whatever is to come. Whether the museum or our art department to show that we are here, we do exist here in Brownsville— and we have a lot of wonderful people here who can teach others,” Sierra said.