'Sundays at 4' pop-up art cafés showcase creativity

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Aug. 7, 2013
Stephen Sottile answers questions and demonstrates white line woodblock printmaking (also known as the Provincetown cut) for visitors to the ‘Sundays at 4’ pop-up art café. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Stephen Sottile answers questions and demonstrates white line woodblock printmaking (also known as the Provincetown cut) for visitors to the ‘Sundays at 4’ pop-up art café. Photos by Annie Gentile.

Sunday afternoons have become a bit more interesting in the Spruce Street area of Manchester, thanks to “Sundays at 4,” a new pop-up art café that has taken root at the East Side Neighborhood Resource Center this summer.

An initiative connected to Manchester’s Office of Neighborhoods and Families and in partnership with the East Side Livable Neighborhood Group and Summit Studios, the series serves a couple of purposes - first to provide a platform for up-and-coming artists and musicians, and secondly, to bring art and cultural opportunities to the east side neighborhood. The café also raises funds for the East Side Livable Neighborhood Group.

On Sunday, Aug. 4, the cafe featured the work of professional printmaker Stephen Sottile, who demonstrated some of his techniques, including the “Provincetown cut.”

Sottile explained that the traditional method of printmaking from woodcut plates involved cutting a separate block of wood for each color in a design, a process that is extremely time-consuming. The blocks are then painted with watercolors and a special paper is then pressed against them - Sottile uses a simple spoon for this task - so that the color is transferred from the wood block to the paper.

“You have to paint the watercolors one section at a time, and then press each section. You can’t do the whole thing at once, as the watercolors dry too quickly,” said Sottile. “I do one color at a time and slowly build up the color. I experiment all the time.”

While the entire process of cutting individual blocks, then repeatedly painting and pressing, is time-consuming, at least part of the process was shortened in 1915, when, as Sottile explained, B.J.O. Nordfeldt and a group of artists in Provincetown began experimenting with using a single block of wood for an entire design. Nordfeldt simply separated each color by cutting a thin line between them with a sharp pen knife. The new method worked wonders. 

“[The Provincetown cut] was big for 20 or 30 years, but then it fizzled out,” said Sottile. “Then it went to some big shows in the ’80s in Boston and took off again, and lately there’s been some renewed interest,” he said. An excellent example of Sottile’s printmaking work utilizing the Provincetown cut can be found on the front cover of Manchester Community College’s Fall 2012 catalog of credit-free courses.

Sottile makes a limited number of prints from each of his plates, but because the process involves transferring the colors from the painted blocks to paper, no two prints are exact duplicates. Besides framing and selling his prints, he also frames his original plates.
“At MCC we’re trying to get people interested in the process and get people involved in printmaking,” said Sottile, who continues to take classes there. A member of the Manchester Art Association, Sottile - who owns and operates Schultz Design on Main Street in Manchester - has also shown his work at various venues including the Slater Museum in Norwich, the Old State House in Hartford, Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Art Center, Manchester Community College and MCC on Main.

Chris Silver, director of the Office of Neighborhoods and Families, said the “Sundays at 4” series was the brainchild of the East Side Livable Neighborhood Group. “They were charged with looking at this defined neighborhood and developing initiatives with a priority to make the neighborhood a better place to live,” Silver said, adding that the group decided on doing some things with an art and/or cultural focus. “Many of the people here are disenfranchised, because they don’t own property and are not as vested in the neighborhood. [The ‘Sundays at 4’ series] is an opportunity for neighbors and families to make connections,” Silver said.

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