Fine Art Prof. Henry Gepfer curates collaborative art book to benefit artists & foundation supporting Black women and girls

The idea behind collaborative art book “Past Lives” was simple:

Help artists weather the economic crush of a pandemic through publication of their work.

Now, that goal has been combined with financial support for social justice initiatives, and the potential impact of “Past Lives,” a collaborative art book curated by Fine Art Adjunct Professor Henry Gepfer, has widened in scope.

And the result, Gepfer says, seeing how artists have pulled together for a larger cause, has been incredibly rewarding.

Prof. Henry Gepfer headshot

Prof. Henry Gepfer

When non-essential businesses began shutting down at the start of the pandemic, Lancaster-based print and design studio Risolve Studio was one of them. That’s when the idea for “Past Lives” was born:

Gepfer operates the presses and finishing equipment at Risolve, performing Risograph printing and producing artists’ books. Under the banner of Risolve, and with the business owners’ support, he would build the thematic framework and curate a collaborative book using work from three dozen of his art-world contacts. Seventy percent of the profits from the book would help support those contributors through the economic impact of COVID-19 shutdowns.

On its surface, it was a simple proposition, Gepfer says.

“The project began as an opportunity to keep artists active – and to pay them,” Gepfer says. “It’s
unfortunately not a terribly common thing. I like to be able to use whatever platform I have access to to promote artists whose work I believe to be of a high caliber and this project allowed me to do that.”

This edition of “Past Lives” is being printed based on the amount of books sold.
Once preorders are closed on July 22, the book is gone. To order, visit Risolve Studios here.

Then, as weeks passed, and protests for police and justice system reform grew, Risolve Studio’s owners, Sebastian and Lyndsey Burke, made a decision that would further expand the community impact of “Past Lives”: Instead of using the remaining 30% of profits to offset costs, Risolve would donate them to an organization that works with Black women and girls.

We talked to Gepfer about that decision, his hopes for “Past Lives,” and the ways in which results can be amplified when the creative community comes together:

Tell us more about how “Past Lives” evolved:

HG: I could no longer go into the studio to operate the printers and instead began working from home. Lyndsey and Sebastian, the owners of Risolve, decided it would be a good time to publish a  collaborative book. With so many artists out of work or lacking funds due to the pandemic, we decided that 70% of the gross profits of the books would be given directly to the artists.

When we launched the book at the start of June, Sebastian and Lyndsey decided rather than using the remaining 30% to offset the costs of the book, to instead donate this amount to The Loveland Foundation in an effort to continue the momentum of the protests and the change we hope to see in the world. The Loveland Foundation is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on providing therapy to Black women and girls.

How did you settle on the “Past Lives” prompt?

HG: As many of us were holed up inside during the recent (continuing?) quarantine, it felt very much as though the world of only a month or so prior was a different one altogether. So, as I had been reflecting on the lives I had lived previously, I noticed a lot of folks doing the same on the internet.

Can you tell us a little about your own art career experience? 

HG: I’m an artist, educator, and curator. I’ve taught at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, Millersville University, and Gettysburg College. I was a Curatorial Member of Little Berlin, an undefined exhibition space in Philadelphia, for two years. I am deeply invested in printmaking. I’ve worked in the printing industry for the past three years, currently at Risolve Studio in Lancaster. I am a member of the MidAmerica Print Council’s Executive Board and manage its social media. And, for the last two years, I have worked with the Lancaster Printer’s Fairhelping to organize their gallery events.

Gepfer isn’t the only PCA&D-affiliated artist tied to the project. Work from alumni Jason Herr and Megan Elaine Wirick also is featured, as is art by current adjunct instructor Josias Figueirido and former instructor Paolo Puck.

As an artist, how does becoming involved in a collaborative project like this spark your own thought and creative processes? 

HG: Curating is a creative process that forces you to find fundamental, conceptual, or thematic parallels between artists and draw conclusions about how their work coexists or doesn’t.

What do you think becoming involved in “Past Lives” offered its participants: a sense of artistic community at a time when everyone was/is physically distanced? A deadline for
creating something new?

HG: I can’t speak for the artists, and I don’t want to project too much. But, I like to think that being involved in this project allowed artists to feel engaged with something positive and productive in a time when the stress of simply functioning, not to mention the 24/7 news cycle, has been incredibly deflating.

On a personal level, this project gave me something to look forward to each day and a way to remain plugged into a creative outlet. I can only hope this project did something similar for everyone else involved.

Was there a big moment during this when you realized how special the end result would be?

HG: I was excited about this project from the beginning. But, I knew it was going to be special once we started receiving files of the artists’ work. It’s a book that features a wide variety of styles, but each of the artists are at the top of their game. There are only hits in this book, no misses, and I’m proud to be a part of it.