Accidental Success: Pyramid Atlantic debuts new exhibition, ‘Misprints’

Hagan Inverted Ginny “Hagan Inverted Ginny” by Michael Hagen. Screenprint (Stencil/Screen). 2019. Photo courtsey of Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.

By SHOURJYA MOOKERJEE — The idea for the exhibition sprang from a simple conversation about mistakes. Although the broader topic of the exchange spanned other subjects, Kate Taylor Davis, executive director at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, honed in on the significance of the infamous “Inverted Jenny” stamp.

“It was basically a printer’s error,” said Davis. “Somebody printed a certain number of them upside down, and they became very valuable. This got us thinking about the idea of a misprint.”

On Friday, March 8, the “Misprints” exhibition will open with a reception at Pyramid Atlantic, 4318 Gallatin Street, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The exhibit will feature 24 unique outcomes of a printer’s mistake as part of the 100th anniversary of the first airmail flight and the “Inverted Jenny.”

Of course, the stamp itself, which features an upside-down Curtiss JN-4 airplane, commonly called a “Jenny,” is one of the most famous errors in American philately or the study of stamps and postal history. Valued at roughly $1 million, the face value of the original stamp was just 24 cents.

“Sometimes, there is a lot of artistic value in a mistake,” Davis said. “So we wanted to play with that idea and ask folks to display their errors and the stories behind them.”

Working in conjunction with Maryland Milestones, a brand established in 2012 by Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, Pyramid Atlantic sent out an open call to printmakers early this year, boldly asking artists for their blunders. Unsure of what to expect, the team was soon overwhelmed when they received about 150 applications.

“We didn’t know if people would want to talk about their errors,” Davis said. “But in the end, we chose 24 works, and the great part is that we don’t know many of the artists.”

In addition to local printmakers from the District of Columbia, Maryland,  and Virginia, “Misprints” will showcase the works of artists from all over the country, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana and Massachusetts.

“It’s exciting to see work that’s happening in other areas of the country — it makes the conversation bigger,” Davis said.

The works themselves were chosen by Artistic Director Gretchen Schermerhorn, who has spent the last decade at Pyramid Atlantic and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking herself. Davis said that while the process was difficult, the team tried to focus on the stories behind the errors.

“I found out that there was something called a ‘ghost print,’ which is basically an experimental print that turned out better than the original intention,” she said. “Everything, from the terminology to the result — it’s all very cool.”

The exhibition, Davis says, will feature both the prints and their respective mistakes on a placard beside them, as the errors are not always obvious and recognizable.

“Printmakers are notoriously methodical in their process,” Davis said. “But I think these mistakes affirm the belief that experimentation is also important to creativity.”

“Misprints” will run through April 19. Both the exhibition and reception are free and open to the public. For more information, visit pyramidatlanticartcenter.org.

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