Visiting professor steamrolls art into Conway

Most people probably aren’t familiar with the widely growing public art practice of driving a steamroller over a block of carved wood covered with paper. It’s featured in art festivals and one project even has its own Kickstarter page.

However, this Saturday from 1pm-4pm, Conway ArtsFest will host the town’s first public steamroller print-making display.

First time visiting UCA professor John Paul McCaughey is responsible for organizing the event and has done a similar display at an art festival during his residency in Kansas.

“Several artists have given us giant woodblocks with hand-carved outlines on them, and we have to use a steamroller to print the images because we don’t have a printer big enough to do it,” McCaughey said.

Eight different artists have contributed carved woodblocks for the event, with four being from Conway. Some students have even provided blocks. Each of the eight works will be printed three times during the event and will be available for purchase. There will be enough material to print more if need be.

“These projects bridge all aspects of life,” McCaughey said. “People from all over contribute to them, and some of them haven’t touched art since high school.”

McCaughey had to do some bridging of his own to make it all happen, finding people to contribute woodblocks, gathering interested people to assist him, and getting the art supplies. Next, there’s the issue of the steamroller and other materials necessary to make the project actually work.

“It’s a huge thing to organize,” McCaughey said. “You have to find a contractor to rent you a steamroller, and figure out how to use it on the woodblocks so that they don’t break.”

Luckily for him, a contractor in Conway volunteered the use of a steamroller and an operator, free of charge. In order to prepare, the blocks are set on the ground with cushion underneath to prevent the bottom from cracking, and a layer of thermoplastic polycarbonate is placed on top for protection.

“We print the image with ink onto paper straight from the block by rolling the steamroller over the top of it, and then backing over it once again,” McCaughey said.

“It’s all about the spectacle of it, because it’s a pretty ridiculous concept,” said McCaughey.

He has a point. Making a printed ink-carving with a steamroller? That type of art will certainly draw a crowd. McCaughey hopes seeing the process in action will bring more attention to printmaking, an art form he personally enjoys and hopes to spread to others.

ArtsFest will take place on Main Street near the intersection of Front Street on Saturday.


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