The Nontoxic Solution
The Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center will be an environmentally sensitive building, and Kristine Philipps, chair of the visual arts program, is doing her part to ensure that the activities within will be “green” as well.
Philipps, who has taught at Sarah Lawrence since 1983, has taken release time during the spring 2004 semester to continue studying the use of water-based materials in printmaking—part of a slow revolution in a time-honored art form that is overturning techniques used since the 15th century. Her work is funded by a “Bogert Grant,” made by from the College’s President’s New Venture Fund, which was established in 1997 by Chairman of the Board of Trustees Margot C. Bogert ’75.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to do this, because it’s the way the world is going to be,” Philipps says. “It’s important for our health and for the environment.”
“It’s a trend in the entire art world to move from toxic to non-toxic materials, no matter what medium.”
Oil-based inks, acids, thinners and other materials used in printmaking have, over the course of long-term exposure (although far longer than one would experience in a college career), been known to contribute to lung and nervous system ailments, even cancer. In some cases artists use the same materials scientists do, without the same level of protection. “We didn’t know they were bad for us,” Philipps says.
B ut notions of safety and simplicity are sweeping through printmaking. Now vegetable oil is replacing turpentine to clean metal plates used for intaglio (a.k.a. etching), and printmaking (which at SLC includes intaglio, lithography and woodcuts) is turning to water-based inks. But Philipps says that going non-toxic is more than a matter of switching materials. The new substances feel different, and since part of printmaking is finesse, her research includes experimentation with such seemingly simple steps as how thickly to apply water-based materials, the angle to hold the plates and the dilution of water. Integrity is at stake: One of the challenges of water-based materials is to produce a print that looks like a print and not a watercolor painting or, because photography is increasingly important in printmaking, like a photograph. “I’m basically teaching myself everything all over again,” Philipps says. “The new technology has opened up new ways to make images, and the images are different.”
Philipps also helped design the layout of printmaking studios in the Heimbold Center. She got the dimensions of printmaking spaces, then made cutouts of presses, tables and sinks and moved them around to see which arrangement best facilitated efficiency, safety and ease of movement. — J.B.
An Environmental Center, too
According to the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County (FCWC), the state of New York— population 19 million—produces 34 times more carbon dioxide than 97 Third World nations with a combined population of 640 million. Armed with concerns like these, FCWC invited Sarah Lawrence College to present an overview of the Heimbold Visual Arts Center’s environmentally sensitive design at FCWC’s May 3 conference, “Energy Independence: Real-World Solutions for Homes and Businesses.” Director of Operations and Facilities Micheal Rengers ’78, who has been closely involved with the visual arts center’s planning, and Susan Rodriguez, partner at Polshek Partnership Architects, the building’s designer, talked about the elements that will qualify it as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified Green Building, including use of on-site stone for building, skylighting, and year-round geothermal heating and cooling thanks to 1,500-foot wells. The greening of the Heimbold building was made possible through the vision and generosity of Josephine Merck ’69, and the support of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward ’90 (through Newman’s Own), Edith Cowles Poor ’43, Barbara B. Cohn MA ’70, Strachan Donnelley and the Marilyn Simpson Trust.