by Jeremy Ohmes
Thomas Lucas (MFA 1995) might be the hardest-working man in the printmaking business. The master printer is the director and instructor of printmaking at Chicago’s Lillstreet Art Center and the founder of his own studio, Hummingbird Press. He has a successful artistic practice as well, exhibiting frequently across the city. Last fall he was a featured artist during Chicago Artists Month, exhibiting his work at the South Side Community Art Center and taking part in a panel discussion entitled "African American Contributions to Printmaking and Design during the WPA.”
For many "more-renowned” artists though, Lucas is the man behind the curtain. Over the last 20 years, he’s pulled prints for the likes of Kerry James Marshall, Willie Cole, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Bill Conger, Bernard Williams, Ray Noland, and Paul Andrew Wandless. He started pulling prints for artists when he was an undergraduate student at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. He says, "Initially I was all about getting the printing experience, but then it was more about the spirit of collaboration. Creating a new relationship is what it’s all about for me.”
As a merit scholarship graduate student at SAIC, Lucas worked hard to develop these relationships. He pulled prints for Michael Miller; he collaborated with Ellen Lanyon and Susanna Coffey on print projects at SAIC’s Ox-Bow School of the Arts; and he interned at Chicago’s major print studio Anchor Graphics, where he started working with one of his most famous partners—Richard Hunt.
In 1998 the artist and SAIC alum (BA 1957)—well known for his public sculptures—asked Lucas to print a four-color lithograph to raise money for fellow artist Robert Blackburn who had recently been in an accident. This initial, one-off job has blossomed into a lifelong collaboration between Hunt and Lucas. The jovial printmaker says, "I’m fortunate to experience Richard Hunt’s work ethic and to see his love for printmaking and drawing. He’s actually a perfect model for artists because, as a sculptor, he can only make so many sculptures a year, and prints are a way to do other work and to have people access that work. Access is important to all artists.”
Access to the sculptor’s print work is available to SAIC alumni. Hunt unveiled a limited-edition print as part of the Pulled, Pressed and Printed exhibition earlier this year at Expo 72 Gallery. The show celebrated acclaimed Chicago printmakers and it included Lucas’s own work as well. Hunt’s one-of-a-kind print is still available for purchase, and all proceeds will support SAIC’s Archibald Motley, Jr. Student Fund, a scholarship supporting students whose work explores the African Diaspora.
Lucas sees the exhibition as a win-win-win: he helped his friend; he’s giving back to his alma mater; and he’s gaining exposure alongside his community of fellow printmakers.