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Cruces (2013) 3 by 2 1/4 inches. Match book like format with fold-out page that is in the shape of a cross, printed with 3 color reduction cut prints. 20 copies. $125.

Cruces was a collaborative project with Gatis Cirulis and Katya Reka of Las Cruces, New Mexico who teach at New Mexico State University (NMSU).

We arrived about 7 pm on April 2, 2013, and by 8 pm were already pulling out the miniature Hollander beater and new iphone-sized paper mould to make paper from century plant leaves that Katya had been retting for the past 6 months. As the paper dried, the brainstorming began. Many ideas surfaced relating to the theme of “crosses.” Our earlier collaboration in Indiana was about crosses and crossroads, Las Cruces was first founded as a crossroad town, early town logos had three crosses, our home city is “Santa Cruz,” or “Holy Cross” is also a cross city. We settled on the idea of making a small book in the shape of a cross.

Peter found a quote by New Mexico’s revered artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, from My Faraway One, selected letters… “Anyone who doesn’t feel the crosses simply doesn’t get the country.” It refers to all the crosses she saw around the countryside in New Mexico. He wanted to change the spelling of “the crosses“ to the Spanish ‘Las Cruces’  to make it seem like O’Keeffe was writing about the city but that never happened.

In the morning we finished up the papermaking. We started playing with a cross-shaped piece of paper, folding the flaps to make a little container, or perhaps a shrine, for the little 3 by 2 inch pieces of paper we had just made. Then Donna and Gatis began cutting linoleum blocks for the cross-shaped paper.

In the early afternoon we went down to the NMSU art department to print the cuts. NMSU has a Vandercook press, but we did not have wood to mount the linoleum on, so we crossed the hallway to the printmaking studio and used their etching press instead.

We limited the edition to 20 copies, a manageable number to finish in a short time, and printed the cuts on paper Peter had previously made and had brought on the trip for just this sort of occasion. We placed the two linoleum blocks side by side on the bed of the press. We hand inked both blocks at the same time using a specially mixed yellow ink. We placed the paper on the lino-blocks, covered it with a newsprint slipsheet, then pulled the print. After that we re-inked the blocks, flipped the handmade paper over and pulled a print on the reverse side of the paper. This way the two lino-blocks ended up being printed back to back.

Donna and Gatis then swapped blocks and cut away more for the second run. Gatis called it making a “suicide print.” At the same time Katya cut linoleum for the cover to be printed on a very strong flax paper Katya had made when she worked at Cave Paper in Minnesota.

After printing the second run in rust-colored ink, a swash of deep red applied with a second roller, the blocks were again swapped and cut away for the final olive-green run. After the third cutting there was very little linoleum left on the block. It was a “suicide print” because there was no going back. It almost became a real suicide for Gatis when he stabbed his hand while cutting away at the block. He worked the rest of the night with that hand wrapped in gauze held over his head.

After finishing the third run it was almost midnight, but we still needed to print the cover. We inked the cover’s lino-block with the olive green already on the slab, placed the paper on top of the block, then took a slip sheet covered with the offset ink from the previous run and placed it face down on the paper, then we pulled the print. The result was that the paper had the green linocut on one side and the three color “ghost print” on the back. We were excited with the results and pleased that the ghost print could conceptually tie the printmaking to the text, as O’Keeffe had lived at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

The next morning we got ready to cut up the prints into the cross shape, but found the ink was not dry. In a stroke of genius, Donna took dry earth from the yard, sifted it through a tea strainer and sprinkled it over the prints. When that dirt was brushed away the prints were dry and had a nice earthy patina. Donna wrote out the quote by hand on 20 little pieces of the century plant paper, while Katya sewed them in place on the print using three cross stitched crosses to reference the town’s early logos. The covers were punched and cut. We titled the book “Cruces” and Donna cut a lino-block title. Using green ink saved from the last night’s final press run, Peter and Gatis printed it like a rubber stamp on the cover. The final step was to sew the folded cross page into the covers. The project was complete…in less than two days.

We split the edition in half, Gatis and Katya getting the even numbers while Peter and Donna got the odd numbers. If you are interested in buying a copy, decide if you want an even or odd number, then you will know who to buy it from. The price is $125 regardless of whether it is even or odd.


© 2002 Peter and Donna Thomas