In this installment of Here to Create, Courtney Moy speaks to the women behind Iron Wolf Press. Monika Plioplyte and Raleigh Strott are the founding members of Iron Wolf Press, an artist-run printshop studio inside the South End’s historic Piano Factory. Here, Plioplyte and Strott discuss the importance of community, support, and collaboration as emerging artists, as well as their upcoming anniversary group show, “NEVER NOTHING,” which will showcase work by members including Monika Plioplyte, Donny Morin, Gina Biondo, Raleigh Strott, Ryan Valentine, Allison Hylant, Siobhan Henegan, and Kelly McQuilkin.
Tell us how you both got started in printmaking?
Raleigh Strott: We met as undergrads in the MassArt printmaking department. It happened by chance that I fell into printmaking. I was interested in drawing before I fell in love with printmaking. A friend of mine at the Museum School nearby invited me to the print shop there. It was her birthday and all she wanted was to spend the entire night printing lithographs. I ended up loving the whole process.
Monika Plioplyte: I never sought out to be a printmaker. I just knew this was the best medium for me as an artist. I took art classes at a very young age and was always experimenting with mixed media. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be an artist. Once I tried out printmaking, I knew it was my voice.
When did you decide to start Iron Wolf Press? What was going through your mind when the idea started? How did this partnership come about, and looking back, do you think it was the right move?
MP: After graduation, to continue printing seemed almost impossible. There were not a lot of affordable places to print, and there is only so much you can print with a wooden spoon at home. Our MassArt professor Nona Hershey informed us about Tudor Street Studio – a local printmaking collective that was splitting up and looking for new printmakers to take over the space. We jumped at the opportunity. This was in 2014. The two of us didn’t have enough money to put down the first, last, and security so it was crucial to find people fast and get this project rolling. At the time, my work schedule was flexible and I used that free time to get the paperwork needed to sign the lease and get insurance. I contacted the printmaking departments from Massart, AIB, and SMFA and asked my own printmaker friends to join and share this incredible space. Turned out, when uniting grizzly printmakers, anything is possible!
RS: I think the moment this plan was beginning to hatch I was standing behind the bar at work batting emails back and forth with Monika. It was exhilarating, the thought of having "a room of one's own,” so to speak. The formative process of Iron Wolf wasn't without its pitfalls and landlord-related rigmarole; there were hoops I thought we wouldn't be able to jump through but we made it. At the time, I was working at two restaurants often working 8 - 13 days in a row. I wasn't always available or present in the studio, but I still made a point of going at least once a week. It was also around this time that my work moved more towards mixed media, so it was wonderful to have a wider variety of tools at my disposal.
MP: Getting this studio was definitely the right move at the time and still is. I think everyone here, including myself, calls it our second home.
The space has a very communal and collaborative energy, and I think that it's very rare to find that in Boston. Was this vibe intentional, or influenced by another space (place, or person)? What was your inspiration for the space’s name?
RS: I think our shared history at MassArt is definitely a big factor. It was kind of like riding a bike, moving into another communal space with classmates. It was really cool to have a sense of belonging by simply entering a space again. I often refer to Iron Wolf as "the clubhouse.” There's still a core group of us that have been there from the beginning. Most of the members who have left chose to do so based on financial reasons rather than a falling out or dissatisfaction with the shop. For the most part, things kind of fell into place organically; we each have "our spot" where we like to sit and work, but is completely informal.
MP: There were few name options but somehow we collectively settled down on Iron Wolf. I think it’s a cool interpretation on becoming one with a pack. Who doesn't like to stick together with friends? Unfortunately, a few cool cats dropped the studio but half of the original members are still here. It’s exciting to have new blood join the shop. I think it’s important to have that mix of creative energy and ideas. It definitely resembles the shared communal studio space at MassArt. It's a DIY space, meaning it’s fun but also very real. If something is broken, you fix it. We’re all very close, so we try to problem solve together to improve the shop's environment.
Was it difficult finding equipment and support once you got the space? Did you have any mentors along the way?
MP: Our MassArt professors, Nona Hershey, Randy Garber and Carolyn Muskat, became our mentors and provided all the help, support, and connections from the start. They still do! The studio came equipped with a 40x60 French Tool Press, which was incredible. And a lot of our other equipment and storage files came from donations and postings.
RS: Carolyn Muskat is someone who has been of unending support and guidance over the years. I owe her many thanks and at least one margarita. Evan Scheele, first a bar customer, then a friend, of S3 Contemporary has also had a role in my development, and he also deserves thanks, but I've already poured him a lot of beer... I think word of mouth helped too. Once schools like AIB and SMFA heard about us, they personally reached out to us about donations and old equipment.
What are the challenges of working in Boston, but also what are the successes of being here? What motivates you to work here?
MP: There are plenty of challenges here as they are everywhere. The successes of being in Boston for so long are that you become part of the art community here, and everyone is very supportive of that. By showing work and mingling around fellow artists and art lovers - horizons widen, new connections are being made all around the city and beyond, new opportunities arise. Boston is becoming just as expensive as New York, but it’s still a toy-sized city. It’s a great city to grow as an artist. I feel supported by the Piano Factory and our community of friends but there’s a lack in between. The city has potential, but we need more young, creative people to stay. The hope is to not stay as big fishes in a small puddle but to have a chance to be big fishes in a big pond.
RS: I agree that Boston is a great place to grow. I think one of the bigger challenges for an artist in Boston has to do with pathways. For example, there is a thriving DIY scene that encompasses visual arts alongside music, performance, and spoken word, moving from that sphere to small, independently owned galleries (Aviary and UForge come to mind) is a trajectory that is outwardly sensible and attainable, and I've seen many of my peers do so. There’s a very disconnected process in moving from the best-known artist on your block to simply an artist known in the city. I think we're starting to see a shift away from that, with Sweety's working with both Samson and the ICA, for example. But it's a taxing process and many people leave the city before doors start opening. It is both a blessing and a curse.
What is next for you guys (for the shop and each of you)?
RS: This year the shop turns two. First step is getting "Never Nothing,” our member group show, up on the wall at Outpost Gallery in Cambridge in April.
I've been looking both forward and backward at work, from Tadanori Yookoo to Tina Lugo and this year’s Spring/Break Art Fair. As I keep working I'm drawn to an ever-growing variety of materials such as Plexiglas and bas-relief fashioned from chipboard or cast objects. I'm really looking forward to what experiments happen next.
MP: While Iron Wolf's fort is standing strong I'm trying to use my time, resources and space to my advantage. I am applying to grants, artist residencies, local and out of state shows. This year I was fortunate enough to have my first solo show at Colo Colo Gallery and am getting ready for the next one in October. I am seriously considering grad school as the next step. I feel ready.
And to any young printmakers graduating and looking for a studio, we’ll take you! We have openings!
NEVER NOTHING opens April 24 at Outpost 186 in Cambridge.