Twenty years ago, Cole Rogers noticed something missing in the Minneapolis art community. His printmaking students at Minneapolis College of Art and Design were racking up major debt without any assurance of a future career.
"It felt problematic for me to be teaching something like stone lithography when there was nowhere to go," he said. "And they were paying my salary."
When Rogers met Carla McGrath, who was working in the education department at Walker Art Center, they realized they had the same goal of opening a permanent print shop. Partners now in life as well as work, they have made Highpoint Center for Printmaking into a pillar of the Twin Cities arts community.
Now, they are taking the next step toward preservation at the museum level. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has acquired the complete archive of Highpoint Editions — 310 published prints and multiples, along with 1,200 items of ancillary production material from 40 artists, including Carlos Amorales, Julie Buffalohead, Willie Cole, Julie Mehretu, Todd Norsten and Dyani White Hawk.
Mia will showcase 175 artworks from that collection in an exhibit celebrating the acquisition, "The Contemporary Print: 20 Years at Highpoint Editions," opening Oct. 9.
White Hawk, whose 2019 four-print series "Takes Care of Them" speaks to how Native women collectively care for their communities, feels that accessibility is the driving force of printmaking.
"For Highpoint, I feel the acquisition means the legacy of their inspired work will be intentionally cared for and honored within the community that decided to center their work," she said.
The Highpoint archive joins a print collection of 40,000 works at Mia.
Dennis Michael Jon, the museum's associate curator of global contemporary art, oversaw the deal. Ten years ago, the museum put together the show "Highpoint Editions – Decade One" and he has kept an eye on the center since its inception.
"Museums are cautious," said Jon. "We wanted to see how Highpoint emerged as a press."
Rogers always envisioned some sort of museum acquisition, so he set aside a complete archive of prints. (Highpoint publishes anywhere from three to 50 prints in each edition, as negotiated with the artist.)
Highpoint also considered the Walker as a potential partner, but since it doesn't have an active print-study room like Mia's, the work would've just lived in the basement.
"We wanted it to be the right relationship, and we can put the money from that into future projects," said Rogers.
At Highpoint he's a master printer, working directly with professional artists. Some have printmaking experience, some don't.
"I try to give artists these media and let them monkey around or play, and not try to make art right away," said Rogers. He sees his role as "somewhat a technician, somewhat a safety net, or a little bit of a shepherd. But I am not leading them, I am not telling them what to do. … I am like a wing person."
His work with East Coast artist Willie Cole illustrates the fine line between shepherd and "wing person."
Originally, Cole wanted to make prints directly onto ironing boards — inspired by his grandmother, who was a domestic worker — to represent the ships that brought enslaved Africans to the Americas.
He and Rogers began experimenting with lithography, woodcuts and other printmaking techniques. But Cole had to leave after four days. When he returned a couple of months later, he saw Rogers' test prints on paper and liked the way they looked.
"He called his mom, and they came up with names of women in his grandmother's generation," said Cole. "Each [print] is an homage to the African American women of his grandmother's generation that were domestic workers."
For McGrath, who as Highpoint's executive director handles the operational elements while Rogers focuses on printmaking, it's about watching everything come together.
"A lot of artists work alone in a studio, and they don't have the public or staff watching what they are doing," she said. "Some people have to get used to that, because that can be very scary."
For artists who have a longtime relationship with Highpoint, the Mia acquisition feels like a chance for the public to experience the wonder that might otherwise be hidden away.
"Highpoint's a very special place to me," said Norsten. "I'm a print geek and there aren't that many comprehensive print-study rooms. … You can call them up [at Mia], go over there, and that is a really cool thing."
Or you can simply view the work in the museum's galleries through Jan. 9.
"I just hope it gives people a chance to see what we've done over the last 20 years," said Rogers. "It will be like a family reunion."
Alicia Eler • 612-673-4437 • @AliciaEler
When: Oct. 9-Jan. 9.
Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Av. S.
Admission: $20, free for 17 and younger. artsmia.org