Tugboat Thea


I love gallery talks—they’re a rare opportunity not only to meet the artist, but also to hear his or her thoughts and anecdotes on the making of the artwork itself. And since my own gallery talk on Sunday was limited to a local audience, this month I thought I’d give an online guided tour of the pieces in To the Letter. Besides, in a blog post I don’t have to worry about my enormous fear of public speaking, or hear myself say “Uh” or “um” twenty-nine times a minute.

Anyway, the only wall piece in the exhibit (and also the only unlabeled piece, since the tag refuses to stick to the wall) is Tugboat Thea, a collaboration with Jessica Spring. The print is an unofficial member of our Feminist Broadside series because of its size, and let me tell you, that sucker is huge.*

And why is it so enormous? Why, it was printed with a steamroller, of course!

Yes, you read that right. The folks at King’s Books asked us to be a part of their fifth annual Wayzgoose** celebration on the first of March, and steamroller printing was the main event. Thanks to a grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission (no really, thank you!), each artist or artist-team was given a four-foot slab of linoleum to carve as they saw fit. Jessica and I decided to pay tribute to Tacoma’s own Thea Foss—business pioneer, Waterway namesake, feminist extraordinaire (though she probably didn’t know it), and inspiration for the Tugboat Annie stories and films.

The trouble was, our Feminist Broadside format relies on a quote by the subject, and we were having an awful time finding anything attributed to Thea herself. Luckily we discovered Finding Thea, the excellent documentary film by Nancy Bourne Haley and Lucy Ostrander—which, by the way, also provided great reference material for sketches.

Printing tools, including linoleum carving knives.
Tugboat Thea took about a week for the two of us to carve.

This isn’t a great view of my sketch, but it should give a rough idea of the scale we were working with. Because neither of us fancied copying a tiny pencil sketch in reverse, by hand, onto the much larger linoleum slab, we took a shortcut. I had the drawing photocopied at 600% size, and then we placed it face-down onto the linoleum, sprinkled it with mineral spirits, and ran a hot iron over the wet paper. The heated solvent transferred the copy toner onto the linoleum exactly the way we wanted it: backwards.

Here’s the finished block, inked up and ready to print.

Wait, wait—backwards? Yep, backwards. Here’s why:

Thanks to sweet pea of King’s Books for the video.
(Sorry for the grainy quality, but it was filmed on a mobile phone.)

That’s Jessica on the left—and Nancy jumped right in to help.

Despite weather that absolutely refused to cooperate and ink turned soupy by the rain, the Wayzgoose was a huge success. We had over 500 people in attendance, and every steamroller artist knocked out at least a few prints.

The inimitable sweet pea


We seemed to have stumbled upon a theme for the day: Tacoma in all its hand-lettered glory. Ric Matthies demonstrates his considerable prowess here;


and while the be-fezzed lads of C.L.A.W. (right) didn’t get the memo about carving things backwards, their first-ever linocut print looks fabulous all the same.


Chris Sharp, meanwhile, prefers to work his magic with plywood and a router;


and the accidental glare of the Woolworth Windows is probably a fitting tribute to Beautiful Angle’s piece.

I didn’t get photos of every print, but they’re all currently on view in the Woolworth Windows, at 11th and Broadway in downtown Tacoma.

Since the prints are so unwieldy, and since we only printed a handful of them, we’ve decided to retool the design of Tugboat Thea and print a (smaller!) letterpress edition as the next in the (official) Feminist Broadside series. We’ll unveil the Thea sequel at our lecture at the Tacoma Art Museum on May 12.

I have to say, though, I’m grateful we were able to find a genuine Thea quote—it was either that or this nugget from the old Tugboat Annie stories:

“O.K., ye ol’ gafoozler,” she replied quietly and stood up. “When’s the financial blizzard takin’ over?”

Alright, I admit it: I was mighty tempted.

* So huge I don’t know what to do with my copy; its sheer size makes a mockery of my flat file, and I sure as heck don’t have that kind of wall space.

** Wayzgoose (origin obscure): a celebration given by a master printer to his workmen each year to mark the traditional end of summer and usher in the season of working by candlelight. Generally held as an annual celebration of letterpress and the book arts today.

6 Responses to “Tugboat Thea”

  1. Jesse Mullan says:

    How about mounted on the ceiling?

  2. Gorgeous work, as always. It must’ve been really neat to watch the steamroller go to work, too!

  3. [...] had the chance to create a prototype of sorts when we were asked to make steamroller prints at the King’s Books Wayzgoose this year. Since several hundred people were there to witness the steamroller in action, but only [...]

  4. [...] usually space our broadsides about three months apart, but the King’s Books Wayzgoose gave us a head start (click the link to read about the first Tugboat Thea) on the latest [...]

  5. [...] It’s time for Seattle’s answer to the Wayzgoose festival! The School of Visual Concepts is hosting the party, and it promises to be extra-super [...]

  6. [...] adding another unofficial Dead Feminist to our roster. (Take a gander at our last steamroller print here.) This is just a sneak peek; stop by next Sunday to see this block in [...]