Printmaker and Truckee Meadows Community College instructor Candace Nicol admits she was stumped when asked to create artwork for the U.S. History Portfolio I, II exhibits.
The exhibits, currently on display at the TMCC’s Meadowood Galleries, were created through a print exchange. One artist, Brandon Gardner, organized the exhibit and asked other artists to participate by creating a print. Each participating artist was assigned a year in U.S. history and asked to create a piece of printmaking artwork that embodied the year while also encompassing elements that made it unique.
Nicol participated in both exhibits, and created works for two different years—but the second time around was her favorite.
“It’s just like homework,” Nicol says of the experience. “He assigned the date, and I was like ‘What the crap, 1833?’ Like why can’t I get a date that has to do with women’s rights?”
Admittedly not a history buff herself, Nicol struggled to find meaning in her “random” year through extensive research.
“None of us were invited because of history,” says Nicol, adding that the portfolio was an effort to get printmakers together.
It ended up taking her four months of research before she found an image that inspired her: a coin from the year that she used as the “head” of a man’s silhouette in the piece.
The references in Nicol’s artwork for the second portfolio include the dated coin, a Colt revolver, which was invented in 1833, imagery to showcase the trail of tears, an American eagle image out of a student’s geography book that referenced the shape of American territory at the time and a background of asteroids.
“The whole thing was about territory and about how we kind of, like, kill people,” says Nicol. “I came up with this man that was the figurehead of taking over the territories, you know, and killing people—and inventions.”
Some of the artists incorporated even more references, creating complex pieces full of historical context that Nicol likened to a historical Where’s Waldo?
The prints were all created almost three years ago but were hung as part of TMCC’s recent Mixed Blessings Symposium, exploring cultural identity.
Nicol, who owns a collection of the portfolios, decided it was a perfect time to use the prints, because, as Americans, she says they explore everyone’s identities through the exploration of our history.
Artwork for the symposium is hung throughout TMCC’s multiple campuses.
Her pieces for both portfolios use four-color etching, a medium Nicol gravitates toward because of its complexity. Nicol says she enjoys the process of etching mediums because it allows her to be systematic in the creation of her artwork.
“There’s magic with the printing ’cause, you know, you don’t really know exactly what you’re going to get … that’s what I love about it,” she says.
Because of the historical context of the prints, the pieces reach an audience outside of art enthusiasts. History nerds are also enthusiastic about the works, but that doesn’t mean the artistic ability is lost in translation.
“The techniques are very complex and beautiful and well done and so art-wise people will appreciate it,” Nicol says. Nicol says she wouldn’t describe her pieces in the exhibit—instead people should check them out.
“It’s super fun to just go see if you can figure out what the history is in the year,” she says. “It’s almost like a scavenger hunt—like how much history do you really know?”