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Serigraphy, Celebrities, and Joe Petro III

(March 2004) posted on Thu Mar 11, 2004

We revisit Kentucky printmaker Joe Petro III, a talented artist whose screen-printing skills have attracted attention from a wide variety of personalities.

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By Ed Newman

Kurt Vonnegut Kurt Vonnegut entered the landscape of Petro's world while on a speaking tour in 1993. Vonnegut was to speak at Midway College, ten miles outside Lexington. "I grew up reading Kurt's work in high school, just like everybody, and a friend of mine here in town ended up getting Kurt to come to the college to speak for a fundraiser," recalls Petro. "We came up with the idea of doing some prints for the college, and it just grew from that. Kurt had done a few lithographs earlier, and he's been painting for 34 years, so we got along."

Vonnegut's first use of the screen-printing process was for an edition featuring his quintessential self-portrait, a limited edition created and signed with his characteristic flair. The edition was donated to assist Midway College in their fundraiser for a new library building. Since then, Petro has worked with Vonnegut on many other pieces, including the print shown in Figure 4. "I don't know how many images we've got, but I'm compiling the catalog right now," says Petro. "We've collaborated on at least 200."

Vonnegut, like Petro, came from a family that enjoyed making art. "My father was a painter and so was my grandfather," says Vonnegut from his New York home. In his first collaboration with Petro, he made the acetate positives and the screen printer did his magic. He says the limited edition was a success, "so we kept on going...and here we are."

The collaborative printmaking efforts have been coordinated in a variety of ways. Frequently, Vonnegut just sends positives and Petro makes the screens and prints the editions alone. But occasionally, the influential author has been present for the performance.

Vonnegut's description of Petro at work is evocative: "In a way it's very physical. He moves around, and there's all kinds of stuff for his hands to do, a lot of movement. It's dance."

Jonathan Winters Jonathan Winters may be best known for his antics as a comedian and performer, but his original career path started at an art institute in his hometown of Dayton, OH after he returned from service in the Marine Corps during World War II. Art school is the best thing that ever happened to me," says Winters. "I was really doing what I wanted to do."


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