Printmaking students use COVID-19 to inspire postcards for hospitals, family
When York College students packed their bags and went home because of COVID-19, Adjunct Professor Adam DelMarcelle wanted to find a way for his fine art students to feel connected not only to what was happening around them but to each other, as well. He looked to students in his Print Making 1 class and asked, “What can we offer during this time?”
The answer was spelled out in about 160 postcards. Instead of the screen printing, prints, and posters that students would have created in the Spring Semester, DelMarcelle and his students turned to relief printmaking, an art that he says can be done just about anywhere. Because social distancing kept everyone apart, postcards lent themselves to both an expression of art and a form of communication.
The initial idea was to send the postcards to first responders at hospitals, testing sites, and clinics, DelMarcelle says. But as students created the postcards, the list grew to include friends and family. “There were all these people we wanted to have physical contact with but couldn’t,” he says. “This helped students make those connections.”
Learning from the experts
DelMarcelle wanted to connect his students in a deeper way to the project they were about to undertake. Through Zoom, he was able to get them on a call with Dr. Eric Avery, a printmaker with a studio based along the border of Texas and Mexico, who used his medical background as a physician to inspire social content prints that explore human medical rights and social responses to disease and death. Dr. Avery even participated in the project by making a postcard and sending it to students.
“We realized it would be a shame if we didn’t take this moment in history to document something about this time,” DelMarcelle says. “If we decided to not do that we’d look back and regret it.”
It was that idea of documenting history that led Alex Grahe ’21, a Biology major with a Fine Art minor at York College, to use printmaking as a form of activism.
Using postcards for a bigger message
There were a lot of stressors Grahe faced when COVID-19 closed campus. Grahe, originally from Tacoma, Washington, didn’t have a place to stay when campus closed. They lived with a professor before going on to stay with grandparents and eventually finding housing of their own. While trying to keep in touch with family who lived far away and still stay connected with coursework, Grahe used the postcard project to keep those lines of communication open.
The bigger driver for Grahe was using the postcards to express their support of Black Lives Matter and the discussions of race taking place across the country. Grahe chose a postcard that depicted Civil War monuments. Then, Grahe took inspiration from a 1920’s photo of Black Americans standing in line for food. Grahe added face masks, taking a piece of history and making it modern. “For me, it was taking my position in a seat of privilege and drawing attention to a problem,” Grahe says. “I have the ability to say, ‘This isn’t okay.’”
Grahe sent five postcards to family and five to area hospitals. To the hospitals, Grahe wrote messages of encouragement. To family, Grahe said they missed them. Grahe even sent one to Dr. Avery. “It was great to hear that he found it inspiring,” Grahe says. “That connection made the project really cool.”
Sharing space with students
DelMarcelle doesn’t think he’ll ever forget this semester. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to connect with students in a way that may not have happened otherwise. And, he says, it gave his students an opportunity to use their art to take care of themselves.
“It was important for me as an educator and a human being to share space with my students,” DelMarcelle says. “We spent more time meeting one-on-one with Zoom that we would have in person. We talked about the world and their work.”
It’s an experience DelMarcelle plans to take into future classes, where connections with students drive the coursework, and personal experiences become part of the curriculum.