Print Maker Tom Rauschenfels Shares from the Heart

Ed Newman

On May 15 the Northern Prints Gallery, across the avenue from Burrito Union at 14th Avenue East, is featuring five regional artists in a show titled Secrets of Printmaking. Tom Rauschenfels is one of the five featured print makers in this exhibition.    

EN: How did you come to take an interest in art?

Tom Rauschenfels: I was very lucky to grow up in a home where the fine arts were always encouraged. Both my parents loved good music, good art, and the importance of reading good literature. Both parents were always creating something. My mom was a fabulous knitter and sewer, always making beautiful clothes with interesting fabrics, often without using any patterns. My dad was a wonderful photographer, specializing in black and white, even to the point of having his own darkroom and the ability to print and create special effects. One of my favorite uncles was the head of the art department at Penn State, and when I was young, every summer that he visited, we would have painting lessons. It was pretty much expected of me and my siblings to at least appreciate the beauty surrounding us.

EN: After leaving home who have been your biggest influences?

TR: First chronologically in the long line of influence was probably my high school art teacher at the Old Central: Ben Levine. He taught us to look at things, ideas, processes in a way that took thinking to a different plane, especially for high schoolers. His encouragement was huge. Second was William Morgan, the artistic giant who teaches painting, printmaking, and art history at UWS. He taught us to get out of our comfort zone in the production of art and push the boundaries. He did it by teaching from a strong historical look at art. Every studio class was started by looking at an artist that he thought was important for the day. From him, even though working on a master’s degree in painting, I fell in love with the German Expressionists: Beckmann, Kollwitz, Schiele, Pechstein, Nolde, Feininger. Even though they were also printmakers, their painting styles were bold, strong, and grabbed at that visceral sense of graphic composition, which just reinforced the importance of prints. And of course, my association with the Northern Printmakers group has convinced me that there is strength and support in numbers of an art form (printmaking) that is not as well-known as the usual drawing and painting disciplines. For me, drawing and painting continue to be a very important part of the “puzzle” that leads to relief printmaking. My wife, Kris, has been a huge supporter and fan of my continuation in the pursuit of “making art.”

EN: How long have you been doing woodcuts and what is it that you especially like about this medium of making pictures?

TR: I was introduced to relief printing (woodcut and linocut) in high school by Ben Levine. So 45 years ago, the “normal” idea of making an image where one creates the positive part of the picture with pen, pencil, brush, I now could create the positive image by taking away the surface every time I cut into the block with my knife or gouge. Plus the idea that the new picture emerging was the mirror image of the original idea, put a whole new spin on the process. Printmaking was a vital part of college learning, and it was in the early 80s that I started to use relief printmaking, primarily linocut, as a teaching tool in my classrooms. Students took to the “magic” of the process and seemed to enjoy the 2 - 3 week lesson project. It was in the mid-90s when I began in earnest with the woodcut medium, mostly because I love working with wood: the grain, the smell, the resistance of the feel of using a cutting tool and the pressures it takes to push light, deep, wide, narrow into that panel with the various tools, a product of mother nature. The last 10 years has found me adding more colors, which means cutting more blocks, into the final image. I have also, depending on the technical and difficulty of the subject, started combining linocuts with the woodcuts. That makes for some interesting combinations of style. The result can be the color of a painting, but the flatness and the intimacy that only prints can sometimes give you. My artwork encompasses both nature and the human figure in its subject focus.

EN: You have been an art teacher for 30 years. In what ways has this profession changed over the past three decades?

TR: I have been retired from public teaching for 5 years, but a couple things have happened in my 30+ tenure. First, when I started my career, art was sometimes considered a luxury, although the State of Minnesota required “X” number of credit hours in a student’s K- 12 education. Junior high had a couple semesters and high school required a semester to graduate. While art production was considered the standard, the new teaching also began to stress the four parts to a well-rounded art experience: art history, criticism, aesthetics, and production. The more progressive districts, of which I was fortunate to be a part of in Hermantown, had the usual drawing and painting, but also had units in ceramics, printmaking, jewelry and metal casting, batik, and sculpture. Because of these options, students could find, after taking the intro courses, an area that piqued their interest. Art was now accessible and of interest to any student, regardless of their background. I found it interesting that even those that were good athletes, or were the class brainiacs, would take art and were often some of the most talented in their respective class. Art was for the entire student body. The new problem in public education is that with budget issues facing most districts, what is the first area they cut? The arts and the extras, be it music, art, speech, drama, phy-ed. These classes help kids to not only express themselves, but promote their critical thinking skills and encourage healthy living, all of which are important to a well-rounded individual.