Upper Peninsula artist brings his printmaking skills to Bonifas Arts Center

R. R. Branstrom | Daily Press The same two pieces of wood, each with three scenes that make up a six-panel story, have been carved away little by little by Ben Bohnsack, artist-in-residence at the Bonifas Arts Center, as he prints one color at a time before changing the block to suit the next layer.

ESCANABA — Printmaking artist Ben Bohnsack has been in residence at the Bonifas Arts Center this past week, working on woodcuts, testing out materials and discussing his process with interested visitors. The residency was a prize that followed Northern Exposure, the annual exhibition at the Bonifas, where this past year Bohnsack’s work “Lake Superior” — a woodblock print showing the lake in both sun and storm, arranged in a folded book — earned attention.

A retired pastor, Bohnsack has been living in Marquette for the past 18 years, and the majority of his prints reflect the landcape of the greater area — there’s an image of people jumping off of Blackrocks, another of Lake of the Clouds, one of a freighter at the ore docks in Marquette, horses on Mackinac Island, and several more scenes that are less definable but still clearly U.P.-influenced, like those of beaches and birch trees.

Over the past week at the Bonifas in Escanaba, Bohnsack has been working on a six-panel series of prints that will be put into a book — in a similar style to a Korean one he has on hand. The pictures together tell a story, and in the case of Bohnsack’s current project, the story being told is that of the six days of creation as per Genesis 1.

“I’ve not intended it to be just a biblical story. It’s really an environmental story that says, you know, where people are in this is a pretty small portion,” said Bohnsack. “We’re just a small part of something that’s much bigger than us. And there’s a stewardship, a responsibility that we have for it.”

He’s been working on the project little by little, layering one color at a time and continuing to carve and print from the same wood blocks. Multiple versions were in progress as Bohnsack tested out the same art on different papers — he said that experimentation was part of “the nature of the residency.”

Bohnsack’s work is currently on display at Lake Effect Gallery in Manistique; Bay College in Escanaba and LUX Center for the Arts in Lincoln, Neb. Other pieces have also appeared at the Erickson House in Curtis and the Alberta House in Sault Ste. Marie.

“I’ve been very planted in Marquette — I’ve been part of the Zero Degrees Gallery there; I’ve been part of community activities like sled dog races and the Marquette City Band,” the artist said.

Currently, however, Bohnsack is in the process of relocating to Ann Arbor and has been looking into new avenues for his work down there.

His residency at the Bonifas concludes today, with a lino class in the morning and then a continuation of the open studio until 5:30 p.m.

Future classes at the Bonifas and other events through the arts center can be found on their website at bonifasarts.org or on their Facebook page. Bohnsack’s work may be seen at sandriverart.com and facebook.com/UPWoodcuts.


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