Nam Pham, Wichita, strolled the Hays Arts Center Annex at 1010 Main on Friday evening shooting video with his phone of the prints on exhibit for the 2019 Summer Art Walk.
Pham moved to Hays in January and is taking his first art class this summer as a freshman at Fort Hays State University. His goal is to earn a degree in graphic design.
“My art is in the corner,” Pham said nodding to the back of the room. Then he gazed around the room at the works by his classmates in FHSU instructor Brian Hutchinson’s printmaking class.
“These guys are so creative,” Pham said. “It’s blowing my mind.”
Earlier in the day Friday, Pham and his classmates were out taking rubbings of tree roots, tires and anything else they could find, using soy and waterbased ink to capture prints. It was then that Hutchinson got the idea.
“I said, ‘let’s go downtown,’ ” recalled Hutchinson. “Let’s do some manhole covers.”
So out they went to the sidewalks and alleys of Hays, taking prints of the city’s circular cast iron manhole and waterline covers, each one unique.
By Friday evening the prints were hanging at the annex in the exhibit.
At Eighth and Main they found a manhole with a fish design. “I said, ‘We gotta ink that one, definitely,’ ” said Hutchinson, noting, “It’s this weird craftsmanship thing on these covers.”
Pointing to another hanging on the wall, Hutchinson says “That one’s in the alley between Eighth and Ninth streets.” The cast reads that it was made in Lincoln, Neb.
Pointing to a waterline cover, Hutchinson comments that the students found it outside Rarick Hall on campus.
Another one they found near the railroad tracks downtown.
“This is stuff we don’t ordinarily look at. But this is bringing what we step on every day, to life,” Hutchinson said. “Our environment is very beautiful, even the ground.”
A nontraditional printmaking course, Hutchinson said he’s teaching students skills to make prints on anything, because an artist doesn’t always have printmaking tools and materials available. The students are using soy and water based inks, which wash off and aren’t toxic for the environment or the artist.
Cal Mahin, retired from 46 years as an art teacher at Colby, was at the exhibit to see one of the prints pulled from in front of his store, Em ’n ME Antiques, 800 Main.
“They were out in front of the store and I brought them out some supplies,” Mahin laughs. “Then he pulled a print. It was fun, I enjoyed it.”
The concept came from artists in Spain, Italy and France.
“I’m just totally stealing the idea,” Hutchinson said, saying he’d like to document the manhole covers in town, including geo-positioning to map their locations.
“We’re thinking we’re going to do a show of all manhole covers,” he said.
Friday evening, Jee Hwang, an assistant professor of art at FHSU, was strolling the print exhibit in the annex.
“I think it’s awesome, I really love the manhole project,” said Hwang, who teaches painting at Fort Hays.
She’s been on the art walk four times since she moved to Hays about a year ago.
“I was telling my parents the community here appreciates art way more than other places I’ve been,” she said.
Hwang stood in front of a Hutchinson print.
“He always has a lot of energy, a lot of creative energy,” she says of Hutchinson. “I learn a lot from him.”
Delbert Stanton, a retired pastor from the First United Methodist Church in Hays, commented on the good mix of art on exhibit.
“It’s important to encourage people to develop their artistic ability,” he said. “Art and creativity is something people can enjoy all their lives.”