For almost 30 years, Tandem Press has been devoted to using the art of printmaking as a means for creative experimentation, unparalleled education, and public service. It follows in the tradition of the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ by bringing internationally recognized artists to Madison to interact with students, faculty, and broader communities throughout the state.
Tandem Press is a continuation of the programming the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. In 1936, the School of Agriculture undertook an extraordinary artistic experiment when it appointed John Steuart Curry as the first artist-in-residence at any university in the United States. The main purpose of the residency was to serve as an educational resource for all citizens of the state. Throughout the following decades, the university established several other residency programs in the visual arts, theatre, dance, and music departments.
William (Bill) Weege joined the faculty of the Art Department in 1971. As a distinguished professor in the graphics area, he had a very successful career as an artist, and remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1999. In 1971, he established Off Jones Road Press at his studio in Barneveld, WI. Weege invited nationally recognized artists, including Alan Shields and Sam Gilliam, to create editions of prints at his studio over the summer months. Weege also employed graduate students to assist in the process. This model of collaboration became the forerunner to Tandem Press.
Off Jones Press was irreverent, iconoclastic, totally experimental, and unique. The studio was located in a barn, and occasionally ink was applied to prints with shotguns rather than rollers. The horizons of many students were immeasurably broadened and expanded in this creative environment.
In 1986, Weege proposed to the art department faculty that a viable fine art press be established and supported through donations, grants, and sales. The faculty unanimously supported the idea, and John Palmer, the Dean of the School of Education, threw his full support behind the concept.
In the fall of 1987, Tandem Press was born. A subscriber program was established to fund and support initial operating expenses. Due to its location within a university setting, it was clear that Tandem Press had to be more formal than the relaxed atmosphere at Off Jones Road Press, yet Tandem Press strived to ensure that the ideal of experimentation and freedom of expression would continue to inspire everyone who came to the studio. In 1989, Paula Panczenko assumed the leadership of Tandem Press. As Weege cut back his involvement, it was clear that Tandem Press could expand on his original vision by inviting artists who pushed the boundaries of printmaking as we know it.
Over 80 artists have now visited Tandem Press and created remarkable prints, including Sam Gilliam, Judy Pfaff, Alison Saar, Mickalene Thomas, David Lynch, Nicola López, Suzanne Caporael, Robert Cottingham, Richard Bosman, Art Spiegelman, Squeak Carnwath, Al Held, and Jim Dine. Through their work, these artists have enabled Tandem Press to achieve national and international recognition.
Today, Tandem Press has a full-time staff of six that includes art historians, artists, curators, and master printers. They are an indispensable part of the organization and form the bridge between the artists and the students, acting as teachers, mentors, advisors, advocates, and friends. In addition, five students work at Tandem on a weekly basis. One Project Assistant and two other art department graduate students work in the studio, one art history student works in the curatorial area, and one School of Business student works in the financial area. Every participating student brings his or her own unique enthusiasm, dedication and inventiveness to the day-to-day operations. They are at the center of everything that is accomplished at Tandem Press.