Copper in the Arts

September 2011

Tallmadge Doyle: Shifting the Focus from Print to Plate

By Jennifer Hetrick

Butterfly Plate A butterfly plate as a part of the series shows Tallmadge Doyle's intent to bring winged ones into the collection.

Photograph courtesy of Tallmadge Doyle

Over the years, Tallmadge Doyle had wondered what it would be like to abandon her printmaking, letting her etched copper plates stand as their own final art pieces. But it wasn't until the Oregon Arts Commission asked her to do a public art series at the University of Oregon that she finally set out to discover the dramatic effect this shift would have on her work.

As an adjunct art instructor at the University of Oregon and a transplant from New York City, Doyle beamed at the opportunity to bring her visionary process into a scenescape through the State of Oregon's One Percent for Art in Public Buildings Program alongside a painter and wood sculptor at the new Ford Alumni Center on campus, which made its debut in June as a $32.5 million project.

Doyle's 21 etched copper plates stir to life in one of the main entranceways of the building, tucked a quarter of an inch into a wall crafted from an old Lebanon Cedar tree that had fallen down on campus during a storm years ago.

The plates beckon of Oregon's rich wildlife, a collection it took Doyle and an assistant nine months of continuous hard labor to complete. The metaphorical nature of her efforts are quite in line with what it means to birth something through the utmost care and love.

"They wanted something that would reflect the environments of Oregon," Doyle says about the commissioned project, with metal and wood proposed for bringing it all together. "The One Percent for Art Committee was looking for nature and animals from the flora and fauna not only from forested areas of Oregon but the high desserts and the ocean too. We have a lot of different climates in the state with the mountains, the forests and the coast."

The series spans the length of a 30' wall which reaches 8' upward; the etched and pigment-pressed plates range from as small as 6" x 6" to as large as 15" x 18".

jack rabbit plate Black tailed Jack Rabbits.

Photograph courtesy of Tallmadge Doyle

Out of those plates, each is named for its depicted species, with some samplings as black-tailed jackrabbits, a brown trout, silver-haired bat, great horned owl, red fox, starfish, octopus, lynx, and even a wolverine from the Wallowa Mountains. Inspired by early language in the persuasion of Latin, the series stretches in a deftly placed design across the milled Lebanon Cedar and is titled "Natura Contemplari."

Doyle's printmaking trails back 25 years in her life's history to her early college days at the Cleveland Art Institute where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in drawing, but she recognized her interest resurfacing once she had been out of school for a while.

This led to her delve back into academia to pursue her master's degree in printmaking at the University of Oregon where she now teaches etching, printmaking and silk screen courses when she's not in her 800-square-foot studio.

Besides the juried exhibitions where she's shown her work, Doyle has several selections of her printmaking in public collections in overseas museums in Italy, Jordan and China.

In a recent series of prints Doyle finished while still primarily using her copper plates as a means toward her artistic end, she incorporated interpretations of constellations and the stars under the title "Celestial Menagerie," sparked by her interest in antique maps and the development of astronomy and the constellations.

A selection of copper plates. The painted copper plates span across milled Lebanon Cedar of a tree rescued and saved after a storm on campus years ago.

Photograph courtesy of Tallmadge Doyle

The Augen Gallery in Portland, the Davidson Galleries in Seattle and the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center for Performing Arts in Eugene have carried this series among many others Doyle has completed.

And she's never tossed out a copper plate. Throughout her career, she estimates that she's etched between 200 and 250 of them, with many of them nestled away in storage closets, cabinets and boxes, charted between her studio and home.

"The plates are so beautiful, and the copper is so luminous," Doyle says, sourcing copper roofing from Pacific Metal right in Eugene.

In her printmaking, she sometimes uses watercolors but in other instances implements colored ink.

"For this project, I etched the plates longer and deeper so they were almost like relief sculptures because the plates had more dimension than if I was just using them to make prints," Doyle says in detailing how she put her etching needle and scraper to work more intensely than with her usual printmaking endeavors.

Doyle installed the series in May before the Ford Alumni Center opened to the public, but her husband Jeff Earp-Thomas, a woodworker who builds custom hardwood furniture, helped her with a lot with the specifics of the project.

Fern plate Speaking to the deep woods of Oregon, ferns were incorporated in Tallmadge Doyle's final series.

Photograph courtesy of Tallmadge Doyle

"The oil pigments are where the etched parts of the metal are," Doyle says about her dive into working with copper as final art away from her penchant for printmaking, liking that she is almost leaning toward a light form of sculpture through the plates. "The exposed copper is the light value in the compositions as opposed to parts that have ink in them."

In having worked with copper for more than two decades, only using it as a tool to create her final prints in the past, Doyle says she admires how soft and malleable the metal is and that it can be scraped up quickly anytime she wants to change something in a plate's design stemming from her drawings.

The versatility and different possibilities copper has for her and how she can incorporate it into future public art projects is something Doyle says she appreciates after handling this commissioned work at the University of Oregon.

Since her strictly copper art pieces are still new and in early stages beyond the Ford Alumni Center's display, most of her private commissions have involved her printmaking and paintings.

Before setting the ink, Doyle made sure to secure several sets of prints from "Natura Contemplari" prior to completing the installation of the series and plans to exhibit them in her usual regional galleries.

"People like art that is integrated into spaces where they can just be; you don't have to go to a museum and walk through a building that is specifically designated to have art in it," Doyle says. "You can go to a public space and be with the art, too."


Tallmadge Doyle, 2433 City View Street, Eugene, OR, 97405, (541) 485-4298

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