Jessi Hardesty, the Discipline Coordinator of Visual Arts and the Curator of Collections and Exhibits at Carroll Community College, has been creating art since she was a child.
"I was always drawing on something," she said. "My parents encouraged me and got plenty of art supplies for me."
Hardesty was influenced by her father's artistic talent; he had been a potter for many years. Hardesty has fond memories of a favorite art teacher in elementary school who taught her how to collage and sew. At home, she made custom accessories for her toys. Her first foray into sculpture was making tin foil armor for her Barbie dolls. She held "Barbie wars" with her dolls riding on plastic dinosaurs wearing their shiny tin foil armor.
"Art let me stay in my fantasy world," she said.
Hardesty continued to have great art teachers when she attended Winters Mill High School. Teachers Sharon Schaeffer and Holly Ferraro helped her build her first art portfolio which she used to apply to college.
In 2007, she graduated and started her college education at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts. Within a few semesters, she had discovered printmaking and took courses in all major printmaking disciplines including monoprinting, screen printing, relief printing, lithography, and intaglio. Relief was the method that resonated with her the most.
Relief printing is the oldest type of traditional printmaking. To create a relief print, you carve a master block from which to pull your edition of prints. An image is drawn or transferred onto the block. Using gouges or similar tools, the artist removes the areas of the block they do not want to print. Once the block is carved, a thin slab of ink is rolled out with a brayer. The ink is then rolled on to the block.
Next, a sheet of paper is carefully laid on top of the inked block. Now, the artist can cover the block and paper with felt blankets and run the whole stack through an etching press, which will evenly apply a large amount of pressure to the block and paper. Once the block is freed from the press, the blankets are rolled back and the paper is lifted up, revealing a mirror image of the carved block. While tedious, the process has the great advantage of being able to produce multiple finished pieces of art.
To create a multicolored woodcut print, an artist may carve a different block for each color and create a registration system to ensure that each layer will line up. A somewhat different method for creating multicolor woodcut prints is the reduction method. This method is affectionately referred to by many printmakers as "suicide printmaking" because the process ultimately destroys the block. The artist carves an image, prints the first and lightest color and then carves the block again and prints the second color. This process repeats until all desired colors have been printed, thus creating a very limited edition because the artist can never reuse the block.
In 2010, Hardesty received a grant from the Salem Arts Council. She used that grant to travel to St. Louis to attend a workshop at Evil Prints with world famous woodcut printmaker Tom Huck (evilprints.com). While in college, Hardesty had two incredible printmaking professors who helped her develop her skills. She was the personal assistant of Haig Demarjian (artofhaig.com), a printmaker and painter. She still considers him a mentor and friend.
She graduated in 2011 with a degree in art with a concentration in printmaking. Staying in Salem, Hardesty took a year off and managed a coffee house to save money for graduate school. She painted during that time since she did not have access to printmaking equipment. Hardesty missed printmaking and decided that she would pursue it again in graduate school. In 2012, Hardesty moved to Michigan to go to Cranbrook Academy of Art (cranbrook.edu), near Detroit.
"It is Hogwarts for artists," she said.
Cranbrook is a non-traditional school. The emphasis at Cranbrook is on studio practice. In lieu of formal classes, students engage in weekly group critiques and reading groups, discussing art theory, criticism, and philosophy. Students have 24/7 access to their studios. In addition to this rigorous studio culture, each department hosts numerous visiting artists. Hardesty was a departmental coordinator and the personal assistant of Artist In Residence Randy Bolton (littlejohncontemporary.com/randy-bolton/). She also curated shows for the Forum Gallery at Cranbrook Art Museum.
In 2014, Hardesty graduated with her MFA in Print Media. After graduation, Hardesty moved to Baltimore and started teaching at the Community College of Baltimore County. When Hardesty heard that the former head of the Visual Arts department at Carroll Community College, Maggie Ball, was retiring in 2015, she applied for the position in hopes of a chance to give something back to her hometown.
"I like the diversity of my tasks at Carroll. I am busy all the time, in a good way. I enjoy curating shows and bringing in a variety of contemporary artists to show at Carroll. I love my students; they are my number one reason for being here. Everything I do is to benefit them."