Sac State art history and printmaking students collaborate on Crocker Art Museum exhibit
October 31, 2023
Artistic from an early age, Sacramento native Emma Montalbano frequently visited the Crocker Art Museum as a child.
Years later as a recent college graduate, her work was on display when she walked into Sacramento’s venerable art venue.
“It felt really good,” said Montalbano, who graduated from Sacramento State in December 2022 with a degree in Studio Art. “Not everyone gets to come out of their undergrad and get to have their art in a museum of that caliber."
Montalbano was one of nearly 150 Sac State Studio Art and Art History students who have collaborated during the past two years on prints displayed at the Crocker from July 27 through Oct. 15. The project, “Estampas: Reflections,” explored themes and icons highlighted in “Estampas de La Raza,” an exhibit of Chicano/Chicana and Latine art prints also on display at the Crocker this summer.
Another group of students created interactive companion activities for 10 of the “Estampas de La Raza” prints in the exhibit. Together, the projects gave students an opportunity to learn about an art tradition that has deep connections to the University and the pride of seeing their work displayed at a major museum.
“It was really meaningful,” said Associate Professor of Art History Mya Dosch, who organized the exhibit along with Associate Professor of Art Summer Ventis. “We had a reception, and they brought their families and their friends to see their work in the Crocker Museum, which is a taste of what it feels like to be a professional artist and have your work displayed in an important institution like the Crocker."
“Estampas: Reflections” built on Ventis’ previous work engaging students in the campus’ history with the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) art collective and the many Chicano/Chicana art prints in the University’s collection. Works by RCAF artists, many of whom were Sac State students or faculty, were a major component of “Estampas de la Raza.”
Starting in Fall 2020, when the Crocker approached Dosch and Ventis about an exhibit of student work, Ventis’ printmaking students and Dosch’s art history students discussed the themes in “Estampas de la Raza.” One theme was explored per semester for four semesters, starting with “identity,” then “shared struggle,” “icons,” and “traditions.”
Art history students researched the selected themes to help inform the printmaking students’ art, a collaboration Ventis said benefited both groups. Students also were encouraged to bring their own identities and experiences to the project.
After four semesters, 50 prints were provided to the Crocker for display.
“It's exciting to see the unique perspectives all the students bring to these themes and then for the students to feel their work is in conversation with work by prominent artists in the main ‘Estampas de la Raza’ exhibit,” Ventis said. “I think it helps them to really feel their status as members of an artistic community.”
To go along with the exhibit, students in Dosch’s Spring 2023 Latin American Art class selected 10 artworks for which to create interactive elements. For example, for a print focused on immigration, students came up with a way to allow viewers to scan a QR code, taking them to a website where they could share their own immigration story.
Ventis and Dosch hired student curators throughout the process to document their colleagues’ work, interface with museum staff, and provide feedback to their classmates, giving them important, hands-on experience building an exhibit.
One of the curators was Guadalupe Joaquin, who graduated in May with a degree in Graphic Design. She worked with the students who created the immigration storytelling interactive, drawing upon her own experience as a first-generation Mexican American.
“I think this was a good way to showcase the Latinx community and also have people who are a little bit distanced from it to find a way to see themselves in the artwork,” Joaquin said. “I found it was a way of establishing a meaningful connection between the artist and the viewer.”
Montalbano worked on “Estampas: Reflections” all four semesters, which meant four of her prints were included in the exhibit. One of them centered on California’s fourth-grade “mission project,” which was criticized for excluding the perspectives of Native Americans. To create the print, she laid text about indigenous ancestors over a “draw with me” image of a mission, the kind a fourth-grader might use for the assignment.
Being a part of the exhibit was professionally fruitful for Montalbano. She made connections with Crocker staff that led to her securing a teaching residency at the museum, giving printmaking workshops to local elementary-age kids.
The exhibit itself, she said, aligned perfectly with what she learned as a student.
"I felt like it really honored the traditions of the Sac State printmaking department,” Montalbano said. “We learned a lot about the RCAF but it was great to work on a project that was so connected to the things they were doing and the topics that they were working with.”
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