Pressing ahead with her art

Jessica Owings Crouch ’01 remembers the homemade drawing kits her artist mother made from wooden wine boxes for her and her brother as youngsters

“We must have carted those things around for years,” Crouch said, adding she later rebelled against a career in art as “an act of “petulant defiance.” But that didn’t last.

“I think I switched to art before I even started classes my first year (at Bradley) because I realized it was just in my bones. I couldn't imagine life any other way.”

Her double major in printmaking and drawing led to an MFA at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and an introduction to letterpress.

“It just so happened that the graduate printmaking studio had a small Vandercook proof press and a great selection of type. I just fell in love with the aesthetic,” Crouch said. “Letterpress is hands-on and technical but has a foot in the design world so it's really a blend of those . . . And I love tinkering with machines; the greasier and dirtier the better.”

and, together sketch

and, together sketch, graphite and collage on vellum

Currently the in-house letterpress printer at Wolverine Farms, a nonprofit literary and arts organization in Fort Collins, Colo., Crouch finds joy and creativity in the historic art form. Letterpress was the primary form of printing for more than 500 years since Gutenberg popularized movable type in Europe in the mid-1400s. The process, where blocks or plates are inked and then applied to paper, is seeing a revival for art and specialty uses.

Crouch described “wonderful experiences” working with printing and paper art at places like the Women’s Studio Workshop, Kansas City Art Institute and Belmont University.

While serving as a visiting artist at the University of the South in Tennessee, she collaborated with a mapmaking class learning about GPS systems.

“At the time, I was making miniature paper houses and leaving them in funny little spots all over the place,” she recalled. “We created a map of the locations where we'd placed the houses ... it was so much nerdy fun to work with those students.”

“Lately I've been doing a lot of collage work, which I'm enjoying because it's easy to work in bits and spurts and be easily interrupted.”

And that’s important to the mother of a 6-month-old daughter.

“The positive side (of motherhood) is that it's made me so much more efficient with my time. I'm often my own worst critic and talk myself out of ideas or overwork and overthink things. But with limited time I don't have that luxury and it's actually pretty refreshing to let a bit of that control-freak side go for a while.”

Bob Grimson '81