Curatorial Projects > The Prison Project (2008)

San Quentin State Prison & The California Rehabilitation Center
Tower Book, 2006-07
Hand printed linoleum prints and bound book (14/30)
Courtesy Katya McCulloch

San Quentin State Prison
Linoleum Prints: Henry Edward Frank, PA-LIN CPA-GAT; Felix Phil Lucero; Keoghan O’Donnell; Jahmal Ironcoat Wallace; Ronnie Goodman; Benjamin F. Ballard; Bruce W. Peterson; Scott McKinstry
Writers: Henry Edward Frank, PA-LIN CPA-GAT; Felix Phil Lucero
Artist/Instructor: Katya McCulloch & Beth Thielen
Artist Facilitator: Steve Emrick

California Rehabilitation Center
Binders: Juliana Garcia; Adryan Piddington; Sandra Toy; Nequita Jackson; Diana Chodosh; Denee Blevins
Writers: Juliana Garcia; Adryan Piddington; Launi Perry; Nequita Jackson; Dawn Aldama; Shonna Larabee; Christina Mendivil
Tower Book Design: Beth Thielen
Guest Writer/Instructor: Louise Steinman
Artist/Instructor: Beth Thielen
Artist Facilitator: Violette Peters

Funding for this project: The Kalliopeia Foundation, The William James Association, The Marin County Arts Council

"This is the only book edition of its kind. It is a collaboration between the art program at San Quentin and the now disbanded Women’s program at the California Rehabilitation Center, in Norco, CA. I’ve been teaching in the CA prison system since 1985. When I first started teaching, it was through the California Arts Council Artist in Residency Grants. Selected by a panel of my peers, I received $1,600 per month to provide 20 hours per week of instruction at the participating institution. Many young artists in the state of California started their careers with this program. That program no longer exists, and the tolerance for this kind of program is increasingly threatened.

Trust is the key to working in this world. When Officer Strobelt asks me as I leave the prison: “Do you have your murder weapon?” I must indeed have my retractable knife with all the snap off blades accounted for. Like the Hippocratic oath, I must first, “do no harm.” The officers and staff of the prison need to know I can be trusted. The inmates also need to trust me to watch my tools. They don’t want to see their cell torn up and their bodies searched because a tool is missing.  We make the structure of trust transparent to everyone. When everything is well lit, it’s harder for trouble to develop.

My primary interest has been to provide art classes to women in prison. By using the “craft” of book arts, I’ve been able to draw into the program many women who might not otherwise investigate art. Through private funding, I purchase the best materials I can find: Canapetta linen book cloth from Italy, Irish linen threads, archival glues, and French printmaking paper. The value of the materials reflects the value I place in my students. I bring the best to encourage the best and they never fail me. It’s amazing how simple and true this formula is. Works from my classes are in collections at the Getty Museum of Art and The Library of Congress, to name a few. The purpose of the work is to give my inmate students the proper “dress” to attend the ball, to become part of the conversation about incarceration when a more enlightened perception is possible.

We are living in a time of twisted priorities, of which our overflowing prisons are symptomatic. Teddy Roosevelt was the first to coin the concept of the “living wage.” That it should be “...a standard high enough to make morality possible.” When I look at the images created by my students or read their stories, I see Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl refugees. I give this as an example to illustrate that I am responsible as an artist to see the context I exist in. Art is about seeing. As you look at this work, I challenge you to see large." - Beth Thielen

The Prison Project

February 20 - March 29, 2008
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA