by Micah Wilkins, web editor
Kelly Kelbel, the previous director of the RISE project, has collaborated with three other friends to create a studio space and art collective in Asheville, the 7 Ton Letterpress Collective.
Kelbel left Wilson last year after she was offered a scholarship to study papermaking and bookbinding at Penland School of Crafts. At Penland, Kelbel met the three women whom she is collaborating with today: Ele Annand of Two Step Press, Beth Schaible of Quill & Arrow Press and Bridget Elmer of Flatbed Splendor.
“After some questioning, I decided to take a leap,” Kelbel said.
Following her time spent studying at Penland, the school then asked Kelbel to return in the fall to help with their letterpress studio.
“The second concentration at Penland built my confidence in doing work on vintage presses,” Kelbel said.
Her time at Penland also led Kelbel to her new position at Asheville Bookworks as the Letterpress Studio Coordinator, where she will be working this summer with a pool of interns from across the country, including some from Warren Wilson.
Kelbel’s passion for art, screen prints in particular, began when she was in her 20s, living in Chicago and immersing herself in the indie rock scene there.
“I watched friends make beautiful prints: some for rock’n’roll, some for the sake of sharing a story, and some for the purpose of furthering a social justice agenda,” Kelbel said.
The first letterpress print poster that Kelbel made was when she was working at Warren Wilson. She and former student Erin Johnson created it to advertise for an art show, displaying “work that could be used as tools for responding to and preventing sexual street harassment.”
“The end result was purposeful and imperfect,” Kelbel said. “I loved it.”
Though Kelbel is passionate about the work that she is doing now, she also misses the type of work that she was doing while at Warren Wilson, working with the RISE project to combat sexual violence and support survivors of sexual assault on campus.
“While I love printing, picking up something to carve into, seeing the merging of words and imagery come to life, I miss the sense of purpose that I feel when doing social justice work, when teaching and watching folks learn, try something new, and challenge themselves,” Kelbel said.
To continue social justice work in her life, Kelbel will be teaching printmaking, bookmaking and zinemaking at a youth camp at Echoview Farm in Weaverville, NC this summer. Kelbel also recently joined the Board of Directors at Our VOICE, the rape crisis center of Buncombe County, to stay connected and continue working on building safer communities.
“I am starting to explore how to bridge these passions more fully,” Kelbel said.
The 7 Ton Letterpress Collective (7 tons is the weight of the equipment in the studio space) plans to hold a studio opening the afternoon of May 19 in West Asheville, at 178 Westwood Place. Warren Wilson students are welcome, and encouraged to come.
“I miss Wilson a lot, of course,” Kelbel said. “It’s a special place, one where there is a lot of love, where I felt most connected to my community. I learned a lot with and among students and colleagues. Something that I learned from you all is the importance of continuing to take risks, learn new things, and have adventures, and that is what I’m doing.”