The legacy of a printmaker

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.

Eldon “E.C.” Cunningham in 2009. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Garner, Metro’s Director/Curator for the Center for Visual Art.

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

E.C. Cunningham’s artwork titled,“Faith Limited.” Photo courtesy of Jennifer Garner, Metro’s Director/Curator for the Center for Visual Art.

“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.

11 Responses to "The legacy of a printmaker"

  1. Scott Wells  November 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    You are muckrakers. You put in facts that were specifically supposed to not be published. There is getting the facts and then there is having enough respect for a respected and loved professor not to publish facts that are upsetting and more importantly supposed to be left out. There is something known as journalistic integrity and the Met does not have it.

    Reply
  2. Loni Huston  November 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    This sounds nothing like the E.C. I had class with. This representation of a harshly critical, intimidating professor doesn’t match up to the sweet, light-hearted, joke-cracking professor I knew. A professor who valued his students tremendously and took extra time out of his schedule to help them become even better. I am especially disgusted by the fact the “journalist” Gabrielle Porter actually had the audacity to print that E.C. took his own life. As someone who has dealt with suicide in my own family it is unforgivable that this was leaked in a campus newspaper! First of all it has nothing to do with who E.C was as a person and second of all (and most importantly) it is 100% up to the family to disclose such personal, sensitive information.

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  3. Kelsey  November 17, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    E.C. was a very kind person, who only wanted to see his student’s succeed. He always took into consideration our well being. This article doesn’t seem to recognize the compassion he had for his students, his friends, and fellow artists. It seems a very poor journalistic decision to print in the first few lines of a story, a detail as private as the taking of his life. I am disappointed in how this situation was handled and as a student of his I am offended that this has become head line news. This is a family matter, one that need not be exposed as if it were a tabloid headline.

    Reply
  4. Michael Labruyere  November 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I am a student in E.C.’s fall 2010 class, and to say that this semester has been the most difficult in my college career – is an understatement. Without having much knowledge in printmaking, I registered for the class with trepidation, knowing that I would be outside of my comfort zone. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that E.C. not only encouraged me as a student in his class, but also assisted me with problems I was experiencing with other courses. We instantly connected – and with offering his gentle recommendations, he broadened my perspective and vision. I want to let everyone know – especially his family – that I am a better student and artist; and more importantly, a better person – for knowing him. For as long as I live, E.C. ranks as one of the most life-changing professors I have ever had; and I will never forget him.

    Receiving the news of his passing was tumultuous; and continuing in the course has been beyond difficult. But, I know that is what he would have wanted me, and the other students, to do. Even though I am still grieving his loss, I remain focused simply because I want to respect his honor. I would want him to know that even though he isn’t here, that I will succeed – and there is a part of me that wants to make him proud knowing that he made a difference.

    With all of this said as we approach the final weeks of the semester, I am shocked, appalled, sickened and revolted in knowing that the Metropolitan newspaper wrote, accepted and printed an article such as this about a teacher that is so highly respected not only on the campus – but also within the art community. Is this really the appropriate way to honor his legacy – one that assisted with putting the printmaking department at Metro State on the map? Is this the way to respect and pay tribute to a person that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of students? Quick answer is – I don’t think so. The author should be educated and coached on what is appropriate information to print, and what information should remain confidential. Further, I trust and assume that the editor-in-chief approved its content – which means that many systems at the newspaper failed. My question to you is this – What were you all thinking in publishing such private information? More so – why would you print CONFIDENTIAL information that should have remained undisclosed?

    I am disgusted that your publication would stoop so low. I must admit that I always wondered why the newspaper bins around the campus were almost always fully stocked with your newspapers – and now I can clearly see why. Perhaps the latest copy that I picked up today will be best placed in the bottom of my parrot’s cage.

    Bottom line – the very least that should be done at this point is for the staff at the Metropolitan to offer a VERY public and personal apology to E.C.’s students and colleagues…and more so to his family. His memory and legacy deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. May you rest in peace my dear friend, Mr. Eldon “E.C.” Cunningham.

    Reply
  5. DS AHRENS  November 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Good thing nobody reads the Met…

    Reply
  6. Rhea Horvath  November 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    What an insensitive way to open a legacy article. This garbage needs to be removed and replaced with an enourmous apology. Loosing a professor is tragic enough. Now on top of overcoming this loss and remaining active in class, students are faced, due to this publication, with information that was not supposed to be announced publicly (common sense). Clearly The Met was not thinking. This information was not your’s or anyone’s but his family’s to share.

    E.C. was a warm hearted person.

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  7. Scott Wells  November 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Let me also describe Professor E.C. Cunningham as a wonderful and caring person. Being a disabled person life is hard enough but when a professor tells you that, he enjoys having you in his class is really touching. I can’t believe that the Met did not interview more students about the amazing legacy of E.C.

    Reply
  8. Yuong Phu  November 29, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Definitely not an article that reflected the type of person that E.C. was. He was a tremendous leader in the department and community. It is incredibly shameful to know that an edited publication would release such personable information–it speaks volumes of what is truly going on at the Met.

    Reply
  9. Ashley Moreland  November 29, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Any of you are welcome to send a Letter to the Editor to amorela1@mscd.edu to be published.

    Reply
  10. Erin Wood  December 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

    E.C was one of a kind. He was so charismatic and funny. He had such a gracious nature about him and such a great way of getting his students interested in printmaking. It was obvious that he truly loved it. When I first met E.C he could tell I was so scared of his class because I didn’t know a thing about printmaking but he took the time to meet with me and show me the shop and some of his students work. As I’ve continued this semester I have found a great passion for prints and I always think of him when I see a print he would love. He was a wonderful man and anyone who got the pleasure to know him should feel lucky. Thank you to the Cunningham family for sharing him with us.

    Reply
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