Collecting and Solar Printing: A hobby and art project inspired by Tashjian’s nut museum

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This is an example of what solar printing can look like. Photo courtesy of the author

On Tuesday, March 8, the William Benton Museum of Art presented an interactive workshop “Art & Artifact: Collecting In Practice” about collecting and solar printing, connecting the two to the exhibition “Remembering the Nut Museum.” 

Assistant curator and academic liaison Amanda Douberly led a talk diving into Elizabeth Tashjian’s paintings, nut collection and other artwork. Following that, Curator of Education Molly Sixsmith explained how to honor collections like Tashjian’s through the artistic form of solar printing. Through Tashjian’s artwork, this workshop brought to light the benefits of collecting as a hobby, and how it can inspire creativity in displaying meaningful objects through the art of solar printing. 

The workshop began with looking critically at some of Tashjian’s paintings inspired by her nut collection. The first painting we looked at displayed nutcrackers, a hand and chestnuts. At first glance, it looks like a still, two-dimensional painting. Hearing the painting’s title, “Cracker Chase,” however, gives the painting a sense of motion, and you can almost see the gargoyle, bird-like nutcrackers chasing the nuts with vigor. 

Collecting, like painting, is a part of cultures across all age groups around the world. As a child, you may have collected seashells or rocks, or you might have been a part of the Silly Bandz craze of 2010. Likewise, as a college student, you might find your drawers and closet filled with free stickers and t-shirts. Whether it’s pressed pennies, snow globes or anything in between, collecting can be a great hobby and a fun way to collect souvenirs, whether that be from traveling around the world or just from Homer Babbidge to Storrs Center. 

Pictured is “Cracker Chase”, a painting by Elizabeth Tashjian as a part of her “Art & Artifact: Collecting and Solar Printing” Collection. Photo credit to: American Weekly

Displaying your collection can be challenging, especially in a dorm, so finding creative ways to honor your prized possessions is crucial. Solar printing is a great way to showcase your favorite items in an artistic, minimalist way, while also leaving you with personalized wall decor! 

Solar printing, also known as sun printing or cyanotypes, can be done in just a few easy steps. First, you’ll want to select items that are flat and have interesting edges. Items from nature work particularly well, like leaves or flowers, but household items like buttons and keys are great choices as well. 

Next, you’ll want to arrange your items on the solar printing paper with the blue side facing up.  

Once the paper and items are arranged, take your paper outside for a quick sunbathing session! A piece of advice — wait for more consistent spring weather to come around so the clouds and wind don’t sabotage your work. Make sure to carry it outside exactly as you want it, because development starts as soon as the sun rays hit the paper. Keep it in the sun for two minutes or until the paper turns a very pale blue. 

Now it’s time to develop the print! In the comfort of your home, take the objects off the paper and find a bowl large enough for the paper to lay in. Fill the dish with water, and let the paper soak for one minute. Let it dry for about two hours, and voilá: Your very own solar print! 

The “Remembering the Nut Museum” exhibit ends this Friday, March 11, so be sure to stop by the Benton before then. You can pick up a solar printing kit for free at the Benton this week, or purchase the paper for about 10 dollars at your local craft store. For more upcoming Benton events, you can check out the Benton’s online calendar

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