Good Thieves Press is as simple as studios go. Despite the art on the walls, it gives the impression of bareness, clean lines and light, which floods through the tall windows.
Along the studio’s single room’s northern wall is a row of mostly abstract print image — the studio’s current show on display. The show commemorates the life and work of Eldon “E.C.” Cunningham, a Metro art teacher of 27 years, who committed suicide Oct. 1.
Cunningham specialized in printmaking, a highly technical medium involving the use of a press to print handmade images onto a surface, sometimes made of metal or stone. He was the coordinator of Metro’s printmaking program.
Eight current and former Metro art students run Good Thieves Press; the studio takes its name from a quote Cunningham often repeated about how all artists are just good thieves.
Amy Odorizzi graduated from Metro in May 2010 with a degree in fine arts and printmaking and helps run the studio. She began in the industrial design program, but switched majors after taking an entry level printing class with Cunningham. He changed not just her major, but her perspective of herself.
“I didn’t think of myself as an artist before I took his class,” Odorizzi said. “When he took me in, I thought of myself as an artist.”
Odorizzi excelled in printmaking to the point that Cunningham allowed her to help him print, a rare honor for a student.
Printing with Cunningham was “nerve-racking;” he was exacting and demanded excellence, Odorizzi said
“He expected a lot of his students, especially the ones who he took under his wing,” Odorizzi said, laughing. “You didn’t want to disappoint him … [But] I don’t have any regrets with how our relationship was — just him and me yelling at each other across the print lab.”
She described Cunningham’s passion for art and printmaking as “leaps and bounds” above most other artists she had met and studied with.
“It’s a nerdy compulsion; it’s a kind of compulsiveness about clean lines,” Odorizzi said of her and Cunningham’s shared love for the medium. “E.C. would joke that painters were just lazy printmakers.”
Gillian Waggoner, another Metro art alumna, also helps run Good Thieves Press. She met Cunningham early in her education and was mentored by him during her last year at school while looking into a master’s degree. She agreed with Odorizzi about Cunningham’s passion and spoke about the high standard to which he held his students.
“You’ll do 100 things that he’ll just kind of frown at,” Waggoner said, describing working in his class. “And you’re just working and working to get better and finally you get that moment where he just cracked a smile and you knew that you had done well … He really pushed you technically and you can see that in his work.”
Waggoner said she actually failed Cunningham’s printmaking class the first time around, but throughout her time at Metro continued to go to him for critiques on other projects.
“He [had] a really fatherly manner about him, and so you got kind of intimidated,” Waggoner said. “But you know you can’t ever really get out of his good graces, because he’s kind of like a dad … The only reason he’d be hard on you and push you is he loved you and wanted you to do well.”
For all his sternness, however, Odorizzi said Cunningham was generous in compliments for students he felt had earned them.
“He was lavish in his praise,” she said. “When you were printing with him, you always knew when you were doing a good job.”
Beside his lengthy teaching career, Cunningham also authored two books on printmaking and was renowned in the greater art community, according to longtime friend and co-worker Jennifer Garner, director of Metro’s Center for Visual Art.
Art Department Chair Greg Watts said Cunningham was a dominant force in building up Metro’s printmaking department.
“He’s the person who definitely gave [the department] shape and put it on the map,” Watts said.
Cunningham was the only full-time printmaking faculty member at Metro, Watts said. He said the department fully intends to continue the program and is looking nationally for faculty to step in. Cunningham’s talents will be sorely missed, however.
“We’re not going to replace E.C.,” Watts said. “That’s not possible.”
Cunningham’s wife, Allison Cunningham, said teaching and his students were his passions.
“He always, from a very young age, took a leadership type of role. I think teaching came naturally to him,” she said. “He loved being an artist … [but] his students were the most important part.”
Odorizzi said it was only natural for them to celebrate Cunningham’s life considering how instrumental he was in all of their artistic growth.
“We wouldn’t have existed without E.C.,” Odorizzi said of Good Thieves Press. “I couldn’t be more different in my art style from E.C.’s. But I am as good at printmaking as I am only because of him.”
The Good Thieves Press show will be open Nov. 11–14 at 2401 Stout St.