Spotlight: UI printmaking professor still going strong

BY MAX FREUND | APRIL 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Virginia Myers leans forward, pressing forcefully on the handle of a heated roller, spreading a strip of shiny pink foil on a sheet of paper.

The 83-year-old professor’s thin build contrasts her thick, powerful hands. Myers is not a passive old woman. She is an artist.

She arrived in Iowa City in 1955 with no job, nowhere to live, and only $150 to her name ($1,213.20 in 2010 dollars).

But she came with experience — art degrees from the Corcoran School of Art and California College of art — and in 1962, she became the only female faculty member in the School of Art and Art History as an instructor in printmaking.

And she’s still there.

Throughout the years, she’s maintained one important mantra: Each student should begin with the basic tools.

“I get students in my class, and one of the first things I do is I sit them down with a pencil — nicely sharpened — a good old yellow Ticonderoga with a red eraser on top,” she said. “I set out items, and I say, ‘Make some drawings,’ and they say, ‘I can’t draw,’ but if you can sign your name, you can draw.”

Once Myers establishes a drawing base with her students, she opens them up to what printmaking can offer.

“There is something about a piece of copper; it is beautiful, it challenges you,” she said, her eyes lighting up with the passion that has staved off retirement. “The copper will always sit there and tell you, ‘You can’t do it,’ I love that, ‘Oh, yes I can.’ ”

Myers did not start out in printmaking, but her passion for the steel and copper plates led her to invent the Iowa Foil Press — a heated roller she uses to fix shiny foils to prints.

The patented tool allowed her to pioneer the application of gold leaf and decorative foils in printmaking, a practice that had only been used in an industrial setting before Myers came along.

“It takes artists to take a craft and elevate it to the level of fine art, and my students are my research,” Myers said.

One of those students is Josh Johnson, a teaching assistant who has worked with Myers for the past year and a half.

“The metallic quality [of foils] was what drew her to it, the quality of how light reflects off of it, it is really unlike anything else out there, ” he said. “There are some pretty jazzy patterns — like holograms — but just in general, the luminosity foil can give to an object makes it unique.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Myers teaches students the intricacies of foil, and she has done so for years, but she keeps working because her artistic vision, she says, is not yet complete.

But while she is focusing on completing her work, she always has time for a beginning student.

“She is probably the most humble professor I have ever had,” said UI senior Roxanna Saberian, who is in Myers’ basic printmaking class. “Whenever she talks to our class, she would always put her hand on your shoulder and talk, she is very mother-like.”

Myers’ personality elicits parental comparisons, but children were never in her plans.

“I had to come with grips with that early,” she said. “I noticed how hard my mom and dad worked, and all I wanted to do was to be the best woman artist I could. I thought it is going to take everything I had to begin to do that, so I scratched off marriage, I just did. I do not recommend it to anybody, but it was right for me.”

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