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  • I found the Printmaking Workshop in the phone book.
    It seemed logical to look things up like that, back then.
    There were 3 headings for Printmaking under “P”.

    I had been between things and complaining about wanting to print again.
    A good friend said with brusque candor:
    “Well then do it.”

    I chose one of the numbers, because it had someone’s name on it, a personal touch.
    That is how I called Bob Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop.
    “Some of us chose to come study here, and Kathy looked it up in the phonebook,” was a cheerful and sarcastic comment from the woman who became my teacher and boss.

    In 1985 the Print Shop was on 17th street between 6th and 7th, in Manhattan.
    It was on the top floor of an art factory. There were perhaps six stories of floors with titles like “Cloud 9 productions.”
    I have a photo somewhere of it. They made hotel art there, it seemed.

    I called, spoke with Bob, and he asked me to come in to have a look around.
    I was looking for work and they started me out as an unpaid intern.

    I made myself busy with everything they could offer.
    Scraping ink cans, cleaning up the sinks, intern stuff.
    The place felt like a safe haven to me.
    I began to assist the printers who worked with the artists that came in to make prints.
    This was a medieval activity.
    We ground stones to prepare the surface for drawing with grease pencils.
    Ink was rolled out on glass tables with long leather rollers.
    Metal plates were filed on the edges to relieve the sharp corners.

    There were classes, and students came in. I assisted the teacher.
    Regulars came in and rented press time and bench space. I got to know them all.
    Bob presided over everything.

    He was a black man, who grew up in Harlem and created a place for other artists to pursue making prints for a reasonable cost.
    He ate peanut butter sandwiches and could move a cast iron press by himself with a pole.
    He was full of sagely advice for a young artist, "Read the lives of the Saints," he said, "You can learn from them."
    When we went to gallery openings he would joke, “You can always tell the real artists, they are crowding around the food.”

    Bob was well connected in the old New York art world,and the black international art world but that world was changing with a new generation of large art and brash young men.
    “Everything is about the big boys now,” he said, “It’s all about being as large as possible.”
    But not at his shop, size, color, and gender, did not matter there.

    But size is money in New York, and money is rent.
    I went from unpaid intern to being a paid assistant and would have been happy if time had stopped there for years.

    But time is like a hurricane, all things bend before it’s force.

    The Workshop needed money.
    I went from working at the press to working the phones, calling contacts in Bob’s impressive, and poorly organized, Rolodex.
    I wrote a letter, that he signed, to ask people to contribute towards a benefit party.

    I was trying to help the Printshop but really I was trying to save my job and the way of life there that I was comfortable with.

    The benefit party was at the Palladium, a club on 14th street, gone now.
    We arrived and were ushered into a private room, and being young, I was dazzled by the almost celebrity of it all.
    The place was packed and the drinks were free and the food was good.
    The world was saved!

    But then, at the appointed end time, instead of us all quietly leaving the party, a large curtained wall lifted up on one side of our private room.
    We were suddenly exposed, and dumped out into the cavernous club filled with hundreds and hundreds of people.
    There were go-go dancers in cages suspended from the ceiling, and the music was savagely loud.
    It could easily have been filmed as a scene from Hell.

    “It’s all about the big boys now,” said Bob.
    He looked old and tired and he left alone.

    The free drinks suddenly cost $10.00, and my husband and I decided it was time to go.
    We saw one of the printers sitting alone in the corner and we went to say good-bye, needing to have some human contact in the now anonymous mass of bodies.
    She was slumped down in her chair and there was a puddle of vomit next to her.
    “Go away, Leave,” she said, hoarse from retching.
    She looked and sounded like a witch delivering a prophecy.

    We left the club and stepped out into the midnight streets, into the unrelenting stream of time.
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