Spudnik presses on after 10 years

Spudnick Press Founder and Executive Director Angee Lennard talked about how the Spudnick Press is turning 10 years old soon—sooner than she thought. 

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

Ten years ago, Angee Lennard created an art space to fuel her love for screen printing and provide access for other artists she thought was lacking in Chicago. The result was Spudnik Press Cooperative, a community screen printing and letterpress collective, well-known as a hub for creativity, inclusivity and constant learning.

The West Town collective, located at 1821 W. Hubbard St., will celebrate a milestone anniversary in June, and founder and executive director Lennard said getting this far has been quite a journey. 

“I flip flop between doing my thing and being in the groove and then being like, ‘Whoa, this is working,’” said Lennard, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before starting Spudnik. “The community is always expanding, but it has not been these giant leaps and bounds; it has been piecemeal.”

Lennard does not want to take too much credit for helping emerging and professional screen printers in Chicago but admits Spudnik distinguishes itself from other printing facilities by what it offers and the people it serves. Unlike other, more exclusive cooperatives and studios, Spudnik hosts people who have never screen printed as well as professional artists creating new work, which Lennard describes as having a “cross-pollination” benefit to both sides. 

“We are really open to who uses us, and if you want to be here, you get to be here,” she said. “Personalities are left to the side so everyone can have fun to make art.”

Spudnik’s relationship with nonprofits, artists and the varied programs and classes also makes the studio stand out, according to Bert Green, who is on Spudnik’s board of directors and owns an art gallery in Millennium Park.

“Chicago has this reputation for being this extensive art scene, and it does, but what Chicago really excels at is an enormous amount of nonprofit resources for artists, both in the form of grants, residencies and access to equipment,” Green said. “Spudnik is just a small part of that. One of the greatest things about being an artist in Chicago is having access to all those resources.”

Green, who was part of the art scene in New York City and Los Angeles prior to moving to Chicago in 2012, joined the board in September 2016 to provide direction for the organization, raise the level of its offerings and connect with the local printmaking community, he said.

Green said he hopes to assist Spudnik in upping its game and creating a larger impact on the national arts scene, and the opportunity to invite national and international artists to the studio for classes, lectures or new programs is the next step.

As the studio grows, so does its responsibility and challenges, Lennard said, adding that it takes longer to generate new events and programs. However, the benefit she is excited about is the collective’s stability.

Dylan Sowle, a local artist who is a member of the cooperative, is a prime example of how the studio’s stability can further artistic practice. He started drawing as a child and studied photography and design in college. He said he always wanted to do screen printing. After learning the ropes, he started making posters, album covers and T-shirts at Spudnik.

Having access to the equipment whenever he wants, seeing other artists work and trying new techniques keeps Sowle coming back to Spudnik, he said.

“They are super instrumental in helping me keep learning,” Sowle said. “Without places like that, artists like me would not have a space to do their artwork. [Spudnik] does a really good job of building community because they pull a lot of like-minded people together.”

To celebrate Spudnik’s anniversary, the cooperative is hosting a birthday bash June 3 that will feature hands-on learning for newcomers, an art show with more than 20 artists and printmaking relay dashes—the most exciting part for Lennard. She said professional printmakers will compete with each other in ridiculous activities like three-armed screen printing.

“We are trying to make an event where if you already know us and are close to us, you can come party,” she said. “But we have things planned if you’ve never been here or have never made prints.”