Forty-two years after co-founding the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) in Rosendale, Tatana (Tana) Kellner is retiring. Not as an artist, of course. She is stepping down as artistic director of the organization’s residency program. “Not immediately, but probably by the late spring,” she says. “It’s time. And I need time to do my own work.”
Kellner will be honored at WSW’s ninth annual gala and auction this Sunday, September 18 for her dedication to educating and mentoring future generations of women artists. The event takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Senate Garage in Kingston. Tickets cost $100.
Raffle tickets to win one of two original prints by Kellner cost $25. Rachelle Spero, founder of the C H R C H Project Space in Cottekill, will also be honored at the gala.
Women’s Studio Workshop was founded in 1974 by Ann Kalmbach, Tatana Kellner, Anita Wetzel and Barbara Leoff Burge. The original vision, says Kellner, was to develop a studio workspace for themselves to continue working after graduation.
In the early ’70s, Kellner was a graduate student working on her MFA at Rochester Institute of Technology when she met Kalmbach and Wetzel, both recent grads of art programs at SUNY-New Paltz. Burge was a New Paltz-based artist married to an art professor at the college.
“We were all very young then,” says Kellner. “We were just out of school, and of course, you have no money then. The only job we were qualified for in our field was teaching, and then, as now, teaching jobs were very scarce. And in the ’70s, there were not too many women professors.”
The four artists decided to set up their own studio. “Anita found out about funding available, and we applied to the New York State Council for the Arts. We received a tiny grant of $2,800, and that’s how we started the Workshop.”
The first studios were in a rented two-story single-family home in Rosendale. Etching was done in the living room, papermaking in the attic and screen printing in the basement. They began offering programs to the community, and in 1983, WSW moved to its current location in Binnewater, a mile outside the village of Rosendale. The larger facility, housed in the former Rosendale Cement Company store and post office, allowed WSW to begin offering artist residencies and workshops. It also created internship opportunities for young women artists.
The Women’s Studio Workshop today has an international reputation for its printmaking, book arts and papermaking programs. Letterpress arts and ceramics have been added. ArtFarm was launched, where more than 100 different plant fibers have been grown to test for use in papermaking. And WSW is the largest publisher of hand-printed artist books in North America, represented in the collections of the Library of Congress, Yale University and Vassar College, among others.
Artist residencies lasting one week to six months have supported the careers of more than 650 female artists from 45 states and 24 countries. The Summer Art Institute workshop series offers week-long intensives in various media, and a program called Hands-On Art has introduced printmaking and papermaking to more than 6,000 fourth grade through high-school-age students.
The founders of WSW are all still involved with the organization to varying degrees. But it’s time for a new generation of leadership, says Kellner, and for herself to focus exclusively on her own art. “As the years evolved, we provided a place for other artists to work, and that feeds us at a certain level. At the same time, as an artist, you need to step back and get a little distance sometimes.”
Kellner has made it her practice for decades to take a month off each year to attend an artist residency. In that way she was able to work on her own projects in a supportive environment where it’s all about the work. As a side benefit, the residencies also allowed Kellner to glean information to bring back to WSW about how other organizations manage their residency programs. Next month she’ll do a residency in Wyoming.
Kellner is known for her work in limited-edition artist books, but she emphasizes that they are just part of her artistic legacy. “I also do installation, photography, drawing … It just depends how the muse goes – where it takes me, what I feel I need to address at a certain time and what needs to be done. It’s basically based on what’s happening in the world and also my intuition. I’m unpredictable: put it that way!”
More information about Women’s Studio Workshop is available at www.wsworkshop.org.