February marks the last month that the traveling exhibit on Everett Ruess, a young artist and writer who roamed the Southwest in the early 1900s, will be on display at the Moab Museum. To round out the exhibit, the museum is hosting two workshops—on block printing and letter writing—inspired by Ruess.
“By offering workshops through the museum, we’re able to succinctly and professionally give historical context to these art forms,” said Diego Velasquez, the marketing and membership officer at the museum. “I think a lot of people in this town can draw inspiration through [Ruess’s] work.”
The first workshop is a two-part letter-writing workshop to be held on Wednesday, Feb. 15 and Wednesday, Feb. 22 with local author and songwriter Brian Laidlaw. During the workshop, participants will first explore the writing in the Ruess exhibit—Ruess didn’t save any correspondence to him, but the exhibit does have correspondence written by him during his travels—and then explore the art of letter writing themselves.
Laidlaw became interested in creative writing when he took a class in college at Stanford University. He was also playing guitar at the time, and as he fell in love with the poetry form, he experimented with setting his poetry to music. From there, he earned a master’s degree in in poetry from the University of Minnesota, joined the songwriting faculty at the McNally Smith College of Music, formed a band—The Family Trade—and recently, completed a Ph.D. in English and literary arts at the University of Denver, focusing his studies on the relationship between poem-forms and landscapes.
As a writing instructor, Laidlaw said he focuses on creating a feeling of permission—there’s no wrong way to approach writing, he said.
“The main point of this workshop is to allow people the space and give them the confidence to explore their voices as writers,” he said. “Specifically, we’re asking folks to do some letter writing. With that, the idea is just to slow down and reflect on the things we’ve seen in the last few days, the cool conversations we’ve had, the things we’ve noticed in the landscape—and share those experiences, through a letter, to a loved one or friend who doesn’t live in the desert.”
Something Laidlaw treasures about letter writing is its physical nature: during the workshop, participants will write letters by hand, as opposed to typing them out on a computer.
“If you’ve been out climbing rocks or riding your mountain bike or being outside, those vibrations are in your hands, and they’re working their way through the pencil, getting embedded in the way that you’re digging the tip of the writing implement into the paper,” he said. “There’s a physicality to it that I think is really magical, and ties the writing to the place that the writing is being written.”
The second workshop is a block printing workshop on Thursday, Feb. 16 with local artist Chad Niehaus. During the block printing workshop, similarly to the writing workshop, participants will first explore the block prints on display in the exhibit, then have the opportunity to create their own. The cost is $50 for a non-museum member or $40 for a museum member.
Niehaus also discovered the medium in college, when he studied fine arts at Colorado State University. What he likes about block printing, he said, is its portability—once, he carried his block printing supplies on a four-day backpacking trip along the Escalante River, creating prints and carving new designs whenever he felt inspired—and its imperfections—he likes “being able to see the human hand” in the small smudges that come from hand printing something.
“[Moab] is just fundamental to my inspiration,” Niehaus said. “This place inspires a lot of us.”
During the workshop, Niehaus will guide participants in creating a block print, from the initial drawing to the final print. Participants can make their final prints on paper, but Niehaus will also show how to use a carved linoleum block to print things like t-shirts, tote bags, and stickers.
“It’s empowering to realize that you can make a whole line of things with one image,” he said.
You can find more information, and sign up for both workshops, at www.moabmuseum.org/events.