Signal Return’s On Press cohort with Master Printer Lee Marchelonis (right). Images courtesy of Signal Return. Photographs of prints by R.H. Hensleigh.

DETROIT — The concept of being a “community letterpress shop” might be somewhat abstract, at times. Though Signal Return Press offers workshops, group tours, and community events at other locations, in addition to facilitating the creation of original letterpress works by novices, members, and visiting artists, their leadership, including print artist and Director Lynne Avadenka and Master Printer Lee Marchalonis, is always trying to think of ways to meaningfully connect with a Detroit audience beyond those who might be naturally interested in a bespoke print shop that deals in the increasingly archaic form of letterpress. Most recently, they conceived of a project called On Press: Making Visible an Unseen Detroit.

Master Printer Lee Marchelonis, who has been artist-in-residence at Signal Return since 2014.

“The idea for the project came out of conversations between me and Lee, who has been interested in working directly with Detroit artists since she got to town in 2014,” Avadenka told Hyperallergic in an interview. “We had a few different goals in mind. We wanted to bring Detroit artists into the studio, whose work we admired and who had no experience with letterpress and relief printing — because we wanted to find a way to let the artistic community see beautiful examples of what is possible in printmaking. We also wanted to share the important work being done by less-known Detroit nonprofits with the community of visitors that come into our space on a busy Eastern Market shopping day.”

Artist Vito Valdez signs his finished prints for Last Day Dog Rescue.

On Press evolved to include 12 Detroit artists and pair them with Detroit nonprofit service organization of their choosing — each artist would then create an original print work celebrating the work of the organization. Each invited artist received an honorarium, and the selected nonprofits receives 50% of the profit from the sales of the limited edition prints. On July 12, the results of the first cohort of six artists made their debut at Signal Return, and the results are a celebration of some of Detroit’s best qualities: artists involved in social practice, organizations oriented toward shaping an equitable and inclusive city through food sovereignty, and environmental justice, and opportunities to leverage the overlap between the two.

Mark Arminski at Georgia Street Community Collective

Mark Armakisi’s print for Georgia Street Community Collective. All poster images by R.H. Hensleigh.

Mark Arminski is a Detroit native whose love of art was fostered early on through Saturday afternoon trips with his mother to the Detroit Institute of Arts. He attended the College for Creative Studies, and found his artistic voice in the 1980s, when he began working with various printmaking and photo techniques and incorporating those in his work with the human form. By the 1990s he was designing and printing posters for emerging national and local bands. Arminski selected Georgia Street Community Collective, an agricultural complex founded by Mark Covington, who is a resident of the neighborhood near Harper and Gratiot where GSCC is located.

What began as a project to clear three vacant lots of weeds and litter evolved into a series of urban gardens, and eventually the creation of GSCC in 2008. Since then, Covington has added an educational component, using the garden as a way to mentor students, and providing a place with internet-equipped computers for them to pursue their interests. Now he intends to refurbish the old corner store and to turn its attached home into an official community center; the garden now incorporates five lots, including a fruit orchard.

Louise Jones at Detroit Hives

Louise Jones (Ouizi) for Detroit Hives.

Louise Jones is best known by her street name, Ouizi, and for her large-scale, ornate flowerscape murals that decorate buildings all over the city. Her oeuvre includes intricate botanical drawings, site-specific installations, sculptural objects, and a recent new body of work, Lucky Garden, which explores her identity as a California-born Chinese-American, with the neologism “Chinese Americana.”

Detroit Hives is an organization founded by Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey, who create urban bee farms. The organization allows members of the community to experience honeybees, conservation, and their role in our ecosystem. Visitors have the opportunity to see the inner workings of a honeybee hive and sample raw honey — Detroit Hives is purposed to bring diversity and cognizance to bee awareness and highlight their crucial contribution to our environment.

Sabrina Nelson at Black Family Development, Inc.

Sabrina Nelson for Black Family Development.

Sabrina Nelson was born in Detroit during the era surrounding the 1967 Rebellion, and she is in her fourth decade working as an interdisciplinary educator and artist. Nelson is influenced by Yoruba Religion, as well as Eastern and African philosophy, and characterizes her work as a combination of “spirit, motion and intimacy.” Not limited by two dimensions, the scope of her work also includes sculpture, performance, objects, and installations.

As a studio art educator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, she lectures and performs artist demonstrations. She is also on the staff for the College for Creative Studies, where she works hard at motivating and preparing students to pursue an art degree. Nelson has lectured on the preservation of Black Feminism in Art at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and her work has been exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Museum of Contemporary Arts in Detroit, the African American Art in Culture Complex in San Francisco.

She created a print for Black Family Development, Inc. — a private, nonprofit comprehensive family counseling agency that was created in 1978 by the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW). By establishing BFDI as a family counseling agency, NABSW sought to promote and provide quality social work services in Detroit that were culturally relevant and culturally sensitive. The original community project, which gave birth to BFDI, was based on the agreed upon needs of the community and resulted in programmatic focus by BFDI on child abuse and neglect. Since that time, BFDI has grown to accommodate the increasing demand for a variety of specialized, family-focused counseling and advocacy services in the community.

Renata Palubinskas at Keep Detroit Growing

Renata Palubinskas for Keep Growing Detroit.

Renata Palubinskas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. In her early youth she went to the Kaunas St. Zukas Art School to study Fine Art and Painting and Decorative Object Conservation. After four years of intense studies, Palubinskas accepted a position as the Decorative Objects and Sculptures Conserver in the Lithuanian State Art Museum. In 1993, Renata emigrated to US, making her first home in East Side Detroit.

The organization Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) exists to promote a food sovereign city, with long-term ambition of producing the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed by Detroiters by residents within the city limits. They operate a number of nationally recognized programs, including the Garden Resource Program (GRP) and Grown in Detroit (GID). KGD’s approach to achieving their mission facilitates beginner gardeners becoming engaged community leaders and food entrepreneurs, addressing the immediate needs of the community while promoting sustainable change in Detroit’s food system.

Pat Perry at Freedom House Detroit

Pat Perry for Freedom House.

Pat Perry is an artist from Michigan who writes and makes astonishingly detailed images, at both small and large-scale, “through careful and cautious observation.” He lives in Detroit, but describes his process as working itinerantly. He chose Freedom House Detroit, a legacy organization in the city, and a well-known temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution from around the world, seeking asylum in the United States and Canada. Their mission is to uphold a fundamental American principle, one inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, providing safety for those “yearning to be free.” Guided by a belief that all persons deserve to live free from oppression and to be treated with justice, compassion, and dignity, they offer a continuum of care and service to residents, as well as to other refugees in need, as well as serving as an advocate for systemic change that more fully recognizes the rights of asylum seekers.

Vito Valdez at Last Day Dog Rescue

Vito Valdez for Last Day Dog Rescue.

Vito Valdez is a second-generation Mexican-American, and has been an artist and educator for more than two decades. He moved to Montreal, Canada, in 1988. After an artist-in residence award from the Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium in 1991, Valdez subsequently received invitations to exhibit in Havana, Cuba; Zacatecas, Mexico; Germany, and Paris, France. Upon his return to the United States in 1992, Valdez’s focus has been on community public art projects on the US/Canadian border in Detroit. Currently Valdez works as Lead Artist on Community (public art) Projects at the Detroit Institute of Arts and continues to exhibit his work in Canada and the US. Last Days Dog Rescue is a 501(c)(3) no-kill animal rescue based in Livonia, with foster homes across Michigan, and the organization has saved thousands of dogs and cats since 2007. While they take in puppies and dogs who are in good shape, their focus is on saving those who are most likely not a priority for other rescue operations, based on condition, breed, appearance, or age.

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Signal Return’s second cohort is meeting in early August to get details of the program, sign their contracts and begin looking at the list of nonprofits, which has more organizations added to it. They’ll then work for a couple of months to complete their prints, which will then be for sale. The whole project will be the subject of an exhibition at The Scarab Club in 2019.

You can find the first On Press cohort prints for sale at Signal Return (1345 Division Street, #102 Detroit, MI 48207) or in their online shop.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....