CGN Interview Series: Deborah Maris Lader, Chicago Printmakers Collaborative

Each week CGN interviews a local art dealer to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Deborah Maris Lader, owner and director of Chicago Printmakers Collaborative.

Age: 56

Current Position: Director of Chicago Printmakers Collaborative

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Previous Occupations: Professor of Printmaking at Indiana University/Fort Wayne, Printmaking teacher at Cornell University, High School Art Teacher, plus lots of the usual waitress gigs before that.


5 favorites from the past week

Restaurant: Kitsune - Iliana Regan is a culinary genius.

Shop: I regularly spend time at Costco buying ginormous mountains of paper towels and nitrile gloves for the printshop. Not my favorite place but a necessary evil.

Read: Just finished “Paris in the Present Tense” by Mark Helprin – very good.

Neighborhood: Lincoln Square! I just love this neighborhood. My print workshop and home are here, plus it’s where I raised my kids, where I shop, go to movies, work out, and everything else.

Music: I’m in a folk band called Sons of the Never Wrong. Despite the genre that defines my own music, I love all kinds of stuff – classical, rock, alternative, gospel, blues, jazz, Americana and world. If I put my music on shuffle, I’ll hear Andrew Bird, Talking Heads, Erwin Helfer, Beyonce, Anais Mitchell, the B-52’s, The Decemberists, Luis Fonsi, and Ella Fitzgerald all within the hour.


CGN: Tell us about your background and the process of starting Chicago Printmakers Collaborative?

DL: Making stuff has been my passion since day one. As an undergraduate sculpture major, welding giant pieces of metal, carving wood and grinding stone, I loved the materials but missed the act of drawing. I took a class in printmaking, which involves incising imagery onto etched metal plates, drawing onto lithography stones and carving wood relief blocks, I was immediately hooked. Printmakers tend to be socially comfortable creatures because of the need to share equipment and resources, and they tend to cluster around whoever has a press. Because teaching has also always been an important part of my career, nurturing others to pursue their artistic goals, it was only a matter of time before I opened my own print shop. Creating community around the medium of fine, handmade printmaking has been my focus for over 28 years.

I was a professor of printmaking at Indiana University/Fort Wayne before moving to Chicago in 1989 and initially sought a teaching position. At that same moment in time, the stars aligned and an old defunct print shop became available for sale. I jumped on it and sunk all my cash into birthing the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago besides my architect husband (a good sport if ever there was one) and wondered if this crazy thing I was pouring my heart and sweat into would actually happen and if anyone would ever walk through the door of a 2nd story walkup warehouse in Ukrainian Village where the only retail in the neighborhood was a Cut-Rate Liquor and a Wendy’s (along with the occasional late afternoon chorus of gunshots).

It was my version of “build it and they will come”… and in fact they did. The printmakers who first walked through the CPC’s doors have been the lifeblood of the studio ever since.

In the spring of 1999, the CPC moved from its original location to an expansive, rented studio space in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. In 2015, I bought a decrepit old building where the roof was caving in and the pipes had all burst and I renovated it to comply with my fantasy printshop dreams. And so it was that the shop moved to its new, custom built, permanent location just 4 blocks north of the old. If I ever leave here it’ll be feet first.

CPC’s member artists hail from all over the world, but most live in the Chicago area. The workshop is home to 7 Resident Artists, hundreds of students, and scores of professional printmakers who work on the presses 24/7 with keyed access. The CPC gallery features works on paper by over 60 international artists.

My role as a curator and dealer has expanded in the past 5 years, especially as our new bright storefront and gallery walls have attracted buyers who are more and more interested in our international reach and are thrilled with the general affordability of prints, many of which can be produced as limited-edition multiples. When folks happen in during our open hours, they may catch an artist pulling an etched image off the press or drawing on a stone, as the gallery shares space with the active workshop. Sometimes visitors actually applaud when an artist “reveals” a finished print before their very eyes – it’s an education and performance all in one, and it demystifies the print medium in the best way (they also see how much hard work is involved).


CGN: Give us a day in the life!

DL: Every day is so different! Some days I may be picking up supplies, reclaiming silk screens, fixing a broken glass litho slab and doing PR via social media. The next day I may be drawing on an etching plate, printing, hanging a gallery show, making labels and creating Instagram videos (we have 26.6K followers as of this week, plus I have 3 Instagram and FB accounts – one for my art, one for CPC, and one for my band). The day after that I may have a band rehearsal, a demo for a tour group at CPC, and an evening gig.

There are some days where we have community events and I delegate tasks for our 5 CPC interns while working alongside them to maintain the studio, answer emails, organize classes, and clean. All while greeting visitors and selling prints. Most every day I try to work out in the morning, then hit the studio or streets for the types of things mentioned above, and then I go home to assure my husband that I still exist. I sometimes like to cook, and always make time early in the day for a matcha green tea latte with almond milk. I’m usually up until around 1:30 AM doing administrative, social media, email and other work from my home computer. Then I read a little before I collapse. It’s important (to me) to be creative in some way everyday, whether it means drawing on a plate or sketchbook, curating an installation, or simply composing what I’m going to wear.


CGN: How would you sum up your experience running CPC? 

DL: I’ve learned that being creative comes in many forms, and that artistic output doesn’t always hang nicely on a wall or sit on a pedestal. Creating community, or building a printmaking workshop, taxes similar artistic muscles and can satisfy the itch to make something from nothing. I used to beat myself up if my artistic output suffered while performing CPC administrative tasks, but now I just see it all as the same thing, and it has oddly resulted in my being more productive with the stuff that hangs on walls! Go figure.

I love printmaking and its array of stones and plates and tools and presses, but what makes the CPC special are all of the printmakers and interns and students and art collectors and visitors who walk through the CPC door every day. The artists draw, etch, carve, print and haul enormously heavy objects around the studio. The work is physically demanding and exacting, and requires a great amount of technical skill. The work that has come out of the CPC print shop during the past 28 years is astonishing. It’s hugely satisfying to see these artists make their marks in printmaking studios, University print shops and in exhibitions all over the world. It’s also rewarding to sell their work, which supports them financially. The CPC was set up to foster dialogue, collaboration and community among Chicago’s printmakers, as well as to educate and share the beauty of the medium with the broader public. Working alongside these artists has been an honor and an inspiration. The city and community has been tremendously supportive, gallery visitors can see us at work, as the printed image comes off the press.


CGN: Most exciting sale you ever had?

DL: Every sale is exciting. I love these artists and their work and it’s important to me to have a variety of price points and imagery so that there is something in the gallery that ANY person can afford. A first-time buyer’s thrill is as exciting as a seasoned collector’s purchase. I do have this regular collector from Baltimore who comes once a year to snap up a nice haul of gorgeous things, so of course that’s always big fun, especially since he has such exquisite taste!


CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.

DL: After last year brought us the new-guy-in-chief, I made a conscious effort to make 2017 the year of furthering the CPC’s global reach, while championing the role of the arts in transcending the muck of divisive politics. CPC held a series of free, drop-in POP (Print Organize Protest) events where folks could screen print posters and tees, and write letters to our elected officials. In the gallery, CPC showed a gorgeous exhibition of Iranian Printmakers while simultaneously touring a collaborative exhibit of CPC and Iranian printmakers throughout Iran, Italy and Norway. We followed that with the summer ON PAPER International Printmaking Competition.

We then exhibited the gorgeous work of young Thai artists from Chiang Mai, followed by our current International Small Print Show. So – lots of work but some wonderful collaborations amongst artists from all over the globe. The work from Iran had to basically be “smuggled” into this country. It was both scary and thrilling to make all that happen, and when Chicago’s Iranian community came to the CPC to celebrate Nowruz (Persian New Year) with us, it was fantastic, and we met so many cool new people! 


CGN: One piece of advice you would send back to your 20-year-old self?

DL: As an artist/musician: Trust that your work will tell you where it wants to go. The process is most important, not the end result.

As a mom: “No" is a love word.

As a community print shop owner: Start small and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Roll with the setbacks, because they will always be part of it. No sense in stressing too much about the inevitable pitfalls. Reassess and move forward.

As a person: When people look at your 20-yr-old self and think your plan to open a print workshop is batshit crazy, just imagine that in 28 years they’ll be asking you for advice.


CGN: What do you look for in an artwork? When searching for a piece for yourself, what speaks to you?

DL: I want it to be both beautifully crafted and moving in some deep way. Obviously, I love the way prints look, so I gravitate towards the intimacy of an etching or wood engraving or lithograph or drawing, but I can just as easily be moved by the texture and layers of an encaustic painting or sculptural object.


CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world? 

DL: Music of course! Writing, singing, playing and arranging songs with Sons of the Never Wrong is pretty darned cool. I very much also enjoy dance, theatre, and film.


CGN: What should we expect to see next from Chicago Printmakers Collaborative?

DL: We are in the early planning stages for our 2nd Steamroller event, which will take place sometime in mid-July. It’s a basically a community-wide printmaking festival in which the feature attraction is a large 12-ton paving truck in our back driveway that rolls over and prints massive 8-foot artist-carved woodcuts onto fabric while amazed bystanders snap loads of photos with their smartphones. We usually have food trucks, relief printing demos and live music throughout the day, so it’s quite the happening!

Other than that, CPC will offer its usual schedule of Printmaking classes, open houses, exhibitions, and membership activities, which can all be found on our website. CPC is also publishing a series of 4 and 5-color Tony Fitzpatrick etchings, printed by our master printer Catherine Winings. 


Deborah Maris Lader is owner and director of Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. For more information please visit: Chicago Printmakers Collaborative