New ‘kid’ on the block

MARQUETTE – A woodblock print is something many kids have undoubtedly made in an elementary art class. However, local artist Ben Bohnsack has taken that skill to a new level – and then some.

Bohnsack is the July featured artist for the SmallWorks Gallery, located in the Marquette Arts and Culture Center.

At a Thursday artist reception, visitors viewed his many prints that, although are appealing artistically, depict iconic local scenes, such as the Michipicoten at the Lake Superior & Ishpeming ore dock and the Marquette Lighthouse.

In fact, one of his Sand River neighbors, Joanna Mitchell, mentioned a print she particularly liked.

“I like this one because of the spot,” Mitchell said.

That spot is a section of M-28 between scenic turnouts with pine trees where bald eagles often perch, she pointed out.

A retired pastor who also is president of the Marquette City Band, Bohnsack holds a bachelor of arts degree from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and a master of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He also has studied drawing at Northern Michigan University.

Next to his print of the Michipicoten, Bohnsack has on display the blocks he used to create the finished piece.

“I keep carving on them,” Bohnsack said. “I carve one color, then I carve the same wood and add another color over the top of it. So I start off with the lighter colors, work toward the darker.”

The process can vary. WIth one piece, he said, he used 15 colors on four blocks.

Although woodblock art might be relatively new to him, it’s not new historically.

“It’s really a very old form of art,” Bohnsack said. “Before they had printing presses, before they printed books, they would make the front pieces of the book colorful by using that kind of a technique, that type of art.”

Although Bohnsack previously worked with wood, creating practical items like toys and furniture, a 2012 woodblock printing workshop with artist Nick Wroblewski sparked his exploration of the art.

In the four years since, Bohnsack has been perfecting his technique. In fact, he acknowledged it’s still difficult to create woodblock art.

“Every print has something new I’ve tried,” Bohnsack said, “and it’s been very fun to explore in that kind of way. I’ve progressed from smaller to larger, and I’ve tried always to mat and frame, because I don’t know want somebody to buy something, or take something – I give a lot away -and then leave it laying somewhere. I want it ready to hang.”

Retired for 10 years, Bohnsack lives in Sand River with his wife, Marcia.

“I’m a full-time me,” he said.

Bohnsack lives along M-28, and one of his prints is of a stretch of that highway by the bay in Lake Superior at Sand River.

“The thing that I was working on new on this one is to overlay the white over the top of the water and the sand,” Bohnsack said. “You know how it is that the water comes in and comes over the sand? So I was trying to capture a sense of that.”

in order to to do that, though, Bohnsack said he had to know certain details, such as the location of every wave.

The July display of Bohnsack’s works is unique in the art world in that woodblock prints typically aren’t as plentiful as watercolor, oil or acrylic paintings.

“Not too many people are doing it,” said Tiina Harris, arts and culture manager for the city of Marquette. “It’s kind of a lost art form.”

Digital art is flourishing, Harris said, but the same can’t be said for artists like printers.

However, Bohnsack is doing it really well, she pointed out.

“It’s very sensitively done,” Harris said.

The MACC also is showing the July Lake Superior Art Association Gallery exhibition by Laura Maze, Christine Groleau and Elizabeth Evensen. Their exhibit, “Converging Visions: 3 Perspective,” features a variety of work including watercolor, mixed media, prints and more.

The three are NMU graduates who have exhibited their work across the United States in solo and group shows.

The SmallWorks and LSAA exhibits will run through July 29.

For more information on the shows, email arts-culture@mqtcty.org. To learn more about Bohnsack’s work, call 250-7019, email ben@sandriverart.com or visit www.sandriverart.com.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.