The Poet and the Printmaker

Paulann Petersen and Barbara Mason at the May 6, 2009 opening of "Bililngual Light" at Waterstone Gallery in Portland, Oregon

Paulann Petersen and Barbara Mason at the May 6, 2009 opening of "Bililngual Light" at Waterstone Gallery in Portland, Oregon (Photo and copyright by Tanner Givnan)

October 8, 2009

By Claire Sykes

What would Paulann Petersen’s poems look like if they were abstract visual art? And how would Barbara Mason’s solar plate intaglio prints read as lines of poetry? For possibilities, look no further than “Bilingual Light.”

These two women couldn’t be a better match when it comes to this aptly titled series that combines the languages of words and imagery. Barbara’s fervent, sometimes feverish, renderings illustrate the feel and energy of Paulann’s poems, the latter narrating their visual counterpart with lyricism and luminosity. The result—a series of 12 originally printed broadsides titled “Bilingual Light”—is downright dazzling.

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Paulann tells me, “I’m wary about graphic artworks meant to ‘illustrate’ poems. But this collaboration was, for me, heaven-sent. Barbara created spaces where literary and visual metaphors could exist side by side, drawing and building strength from each other.”

But what do you expect when you put together two of the region’s most revered?

Pick up any of the country’s top poetry publications and often you’ll find Paulann in there. She also has four books of poetry out (work from three of them appear in “Bilingual Light”). Attend one of her many workshops and you’ll think about, and write, poetry in ways you never did before. Go to one of her lively, crowded parties at her Portland home and you’ll be raising a glass to a fellow poet for the release of his or her latest book, staunch supporter that she is of others’ work.

Barbara, of Aloha, also has her (inky) hand in the Portland community, teaching at local schools, Art Media (art supplies store) and Print Arts Northwest (PAN). Her work has been collected and exhibited nationally; and, locally, she shows regularly at PAN and Waterstone Gallery.

At first, the pair didn’t expect to end up on the same pieces of 100 percent cotton rag paper. It all started when Carole Richards, with First Unitarian Church in Portland, asked Paulann to exhibit her existing, framed broadsides of her poems beside Barbara’s solar plate prints on the church’s Art Wall, in December 2008. But, Barbara thought, why not combine them?

Good thing they did, or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the broadside I’ve got hanging in my hallway.

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This one and the others of “Bilingual Light” hit the public eye again at Waterstone Gallery in May 2009. Will there be another exhibit of this work anytime soon? Why wait? To buy one yourself, contact Barbara at

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For more about “Bilingual Light,” go to

© Claire Sykes. All rights reserved.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 2:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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