Art Beat: Art That's Old And New

Apr 4, 2019

Mary Brodbeck in her studio
Credit Melody Warner

Chances are good that you’ve seen Mary Brodbeck’s woodblock prints — maybe at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts gift shop, in a Saugatuck art gallery, or on an Art Hop in Kalamazoo. Brodbeck’s prints are the kind you don’t forget, especially if you love nature. Her landscapes capture the serenity of nature, even if it means a demanding hike to get a scene worth reproducing with the ancient process of Japanese woodblock printmaking.

“I went to college to get my undergraduate degree and I was always interested in art, but I wanted to come out of college with the ability to support myself,” Brodbeck says. “So I majored in industrial design. That worked out very well for me. I worked in the furniture industry for about 12 years.”

But at some point, Brodbeck says her need for art overcame her need for financial security. She was ready to take the risk.

“It wasn’t a hard move. It felt like the right thing to do, even as a lot of people thought I was nuts.”

"Twinkle" - a woodblock print by Mary Brodbeck

Brodbeck also wanted to have a closer to connection to nature. So she returned to college, to Western Michigan University, to work on her MFA. She received a five-month fellowship to work and study in Tokyo in 1998, to learn Japanese woodblock printing. She had found her niche.

“I was really focused on the landscape as my subject matter,” Brodbeck says. “My relationship to the landscape was the most important thing to me.”

Brodbeck says woodblock printmaking is a difficult process to learn, let alone master. She dedicated herself to that mastery. Woodblock prints are impressions on paper made using carved and inked blocks. Multi-color prints require separate woodblocks for each color. Brodbeck’s images are usually created by using eight-to-ten woodblocks and 30 layered impressions.

Brodbeck’s work has received critical acclaim both in the U.S. and Japan. Some of her art is in the permanent collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts and in many private collections. She also teaches and offers workshops in woodblock printmaking.

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