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How the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Came to Be
Robert Blackburn's workshop was started in 1948 with the help of Bob's teacher and mentor, artist Will Barnet. From its first beginning, with one lithography press, Blackburn's workshop was shared with artist-printmakers, pioneering new techniques with artists such as Will Barnet, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden throughout the 1950's. In 1957, while still maintaining the workshop, Blackburn became the first Master Printer for Universal Limited Art Editions where he collaborated with and introduced printmaking to artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell. Bob Blackburn took this professional experience back to his expanding workshop and shared it with many artists, encouraging more and more artists to use the medium. Blackburn's innovative spirit and generosity made him an excellent collaborator and teacher. His welcoming, egalitarian encouragement of artists of all ages, backgrounds and expertise created a unique community workshop where traditional techniques were honored even as experimental methods were explored.
By 1971, the workshop was incorporated as the not-for-profit Printmaking Workshop (PMW) and Blackburn continued to expand the reach and the goals of the workshop. Fellowship programs to bring in artists from around the globe changed the dynamic of the studio and helped to spread printmaking workshops in the U.S. and to South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, and Australia. The workshop served as the training ground for many printers working in the premier publishing printshops and gave many artists their first introduction into the New York City art scene. PMW served as the model for community based cooperative printshops in the United States and abroad.
In 2001 the Printmaking Workshop closed its doors for the last time. The closing of PMW left many artists without the support, access to facilities, and expertise they needed. Although Blackburn's health was failing his dedication to printmaking and his innovative spirit were strong. Robert Blackburn challenged The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (EFA) to create a program to serve the needs of the printmaking community in New York City much like his Printmaking Workshop had done. The EFA Board of Directors accepted Blackburn's challenge and with the guidance of Blackburn and other community arts leaders, EFA began working toward opening a community space modeled on Blackburn's vision.
Blackburn passed in 2003 and never got to see the fruits of his tireless labor on behalf of underserved artists of New York City: A new community printshop. The Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop (RBPMW), a program of The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, opened its doors in September of 2005 with the expressed purpose that the workshop would live up to Blackburn's vision of community access, professional level printmaking, and support for all artists regardless of race, gender, creed, or socioeconomic background. RBPMW has accepted Blackburn's challenge and continues to honor his spirit with a mission focused on supporting artists' creative risk taking and innovation through print. RBPMW serves more than 8,000 people per year from the United States and countries all over the world.