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Award-winning printmaker to exhibit at Oxford College

In 1965, when University of South Carolina officials first invited artist Boyd Saunders to establish a printmaking department, they reserved a former men's bathroom for his classroom space because it had "plenty of water." He accepted, but dealt with a year of awkward encounters in which men walked into his classroom with intentions other than to take the printmaking class.

Despite its humble beginnings, the print making program thrived (and today is housed in three classrooms at USC), thanks to Boyd's devotion to an artistic skill he said "separates the men from the boys," on both a physical and mental level. Considered the father of the printing making in the South, Boyd said that his studio built a reputation as being a "supportive, hardworking, no nonsense kind of place."

"Printing is a very communal exercise. You recruit friends to help you. One of the things that is the byproduct of all this is that the print studios become very much a family," said Boyd, whose career as a professor at USC spanned four decades until he retired in 2001.

"The thing that is most valuable that has come out of this is that it's a wonderful family. Some of the finest people on this earth passed through those studio doors and became a part of my life and most people still keep in touch and it's very rewarding."

The community in east metro will have an opportunity to view the work of Boyd, who is an award-winning printmaker, painter, sculptor and illustrator, Feb. 8 to 28 at the Candler Student Center of Oxford College of Emory University in an exhibit entitled, "Return of the Wanderer." The free exhibit, featuring 25 works of art including lithographs, etchings, mixed media, acrylic, water color and pastel, is part of the Arts Association in Newton County's arts series. The public is invited to a special exhibit opening on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. during which they can view Boyd's paintings and prints, meet the artist, purchase his work and enjoy food and drink. Tickets to the exhibit opening are $25.

"Return of the Wanderer" is a body of work which represents small agrarian Southern communities and Boyd's "poetic response" (as opposed to pictorial representations) to those communities, whether it be a depiction of a collage of whirligigs or three men sitting on a fence rail. Also displayed will be prints Boyd created to illustrate two of William Faulkner's works - a short story entitled "Spotted Horse," from the novel "The Hamlet," and "The Sound and the Fury."

"I consider myself telling a great epic tale of the South," said Saunders.

Born in Tennessee in 1937, Boyd laughs when he recalls his days as a school boy constantly in trouble for drawing instead of paying attention to arithmetic lessons.

"To begin with, it was just an affliction," said Boyd of his compulsion to draw. "I was read to extensively as a child and I loved the books and the illustrations."

Boyd earned a bachelor's degree from Memphis State University, worked in the graphic design field and got involved in printmaking when he earned his master's in fine arts from the University of Mississippi. Boyd said that he quickly learned that printmaking did not garner the same respect as other mediums like painting or sculpture, primarily because the general public doesn't understand the artistry involved. For example, when an artist creates an "original print," the piece is not created in paint or ink first - it is literally carved into a material like wood or copper and then reproduced.

Boyd said that in order to be a good print maker, one first must master the art of drawing and then combine that talent with an affinity for "manhandling" the materials on which the artist draws. Creating a print is not unlike making a sculpture. Also, when it comes to most types of prints, like lithographs, one must also be adept at chemistry.

"The truth is, the journey is as important as the destination," said Saunders. "The true print maker enjoys the process of laboring over that copper plate."

Saunders' prints and paintings, exhibited and collected throughout the world, has garnered him a bevy of honors including the 2002 Elizabeth O'Neill Verner award, South Carolina's highest award for the arts. His limited edition of Faulkner's "Spotted Horse," which contains 34 original lithographs, also earned "best of show" in 1989 at the Printing Industry of the Carolinas. In 1973, He also helped found the Southern Graphics Council, once a regional networking group that now contains 2,000 members from across the world.

Boyd, who is married and has two daughters and one grandson, lives in Chapin, S.C. and continues to stay active at USC, teaching and lecturing. He's also still creating prints and paintings.

"We talk about artists retiring from time to time, but one does not retire from being an artist," said Saunders. "There are a lot of other things that you can retire from, but art is not one of them."

Contact Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: "Return of the Wanderer," an exhibit of art work by Boyd Saunders, presented by the Arts Association in Newton County and Oxford College

When: The exhibit runs from Feb. 8 to 28; a special opening of the exhibit is Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.

Where: Candler Student Center at Oxford College

Cost: The exhibit is free; tickets to the opening are $25.

Info: Call 770-786-8188 or visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.