Only months ago, Derick Wycherly was an adjunct instructor teaching drawing and printmaking at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
He recently moved back to his native Montana, but shortly will return to campus as the featured artist in the first exhibition of the 2023-24 academic season in the Gorecki Art Gallery at Saint Ben’s. A member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, about 4 ½ hours east of Missoula -- where he is now the collection manager of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, his show is titled “In Land.” Much of the work originated in the Welle Book Arts Studio – only feet from where it will be displayed from September 13 through October 26 in the Benedicta Arts Center.
“I was looking for a place to get some teaching experience after grad school, when much of my printmaking came during the pandemic,” said Wycherly, who completed his Master of Fine Arts in 2022 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “During COVID, there were a lot of studio closures, and I felt I needed more time to keep going with my work.”
He found the solution at CSB and SJU. Through networking, he learned Rachel Melis, who also has an MFA from UW-Madison, was going on sabbatical for 2022-23 and someone with his skill set was needed to teach her classes.
“It was my year of adjunct, but it was practically a residency because the art department was so generous about letting me use the facilities,” Wycherly said. “It was like a gap year to be able to work on my own and be away from the business side of things. Coming in as an outsider, I found this separate little world at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s. There’s a lot of pleasant landscaping at Saint Ben’s, and it’s pretty at Saint John’s, where the art building is right near the water, and you can walk down just about any time and see little critters. It was a nice, quiet break for me.”
Wycherly earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011. Then he spent eight years at an etching studio in New York City before working with handmade paper to create lithographs, monotypes, serigraphy and even performance art during his master’s study.
So, he was ready for a little slower pace and time for introspection when he came to Central Minnesota. In Land, he said, speaks to lands’ interconnectedness and divided state through handmade sheets of paper aligned as repeat patterns that are variable and shift with time, emotion and alterations in process.
“I like to use the different handmade papers to create different fibers and textures,” Wycherly said. “All of that is like parts of the natural world. That’s what I’m collaborating with in the process. Sometimes it’s just cotton or flax, and abaca is another fiber I used. The fibers have different qualities when beaten to different consistencies, and it’s a material difference, as opposed to just drawing one object or a different object. You can feel the imagery ingrained in the paper. I create a base sheet and design stencils to lay on more pulp over that. The color and the drawing are built into the sheet through stencils.”
On exhibit will be four or five editions, each displayed as a group of sheets on the wall (totaling roughly 200), that connect visually to create a larger field of pattern. The handmade sheets sometimes receive ink printed from a matrix of copper or stone, in register with the stenciled pulp. One of his bigger projects is a benefit for Hand Papermaking, Inc., a broadside that includes a poem by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an Indigenous scholar and musician from Canada. With permission, Wycherly uses Simpson’s poem, which is based on a performance by artist Rebecca Belmore created in Peterborough, Ontario.
“(Belmore) was painting these big white X’s in milk on the side of a grocery store while across the street an Indigenous Nation was reburying an ancestor whose remains were disturbed at the construction site of a grocery store parking lot,” said Wycherly, who produced a brick image from 82 cotton-based sheets with abaca stenciled over. “My piece pays tribute to Rebecca’s performance and Leanne’s poem. I’m also acknowledging the history of this institution as a former boarding school for Native children by using the white walls of the gallery to recreate those white X’s.
“Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are a gorgeous place of learning, but they’re also going through reparations with the collection of sacred objects described as ‘gifts,’” Wycherly said of recent efforts by CSB and SJU to work with the abbey, monastery and tribes in Minnesota to reconcile their roles in Native American boarding schools, primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “I have living relatives that went through the boarding school experience and it’s a very heavy subject. I appreciate that Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s are inviting Indigenous artists and authors to share their work, but I also didn’t want to do a show of just pretty landscapes.
“Each sheet is like a plot of land that could be for sale individually, but it connects to all the sheets around it as part of a larger, continuous whole. It’s a contradiction that creates friction and inspiration. And the fibers and the water and ink, everything is from the earth and going back to become part of the landscape. I hope, when people look at them, they feel a heightened sensitivity to reality. You can see and feel the value of the textures, but also the positionality of who you are, where you’re at and when we are.”
Wycherly is helping the MMAC, which had been closed for decades, prepare for a late September grand opening in a new building. He is in the process of moving the first 400 pieces from an 11,000-article collection that must be relocated in two years at the University of Montana. During his visit in the fall, he will conduct a workshop with Melis’ printmaking classes and appear at an artist’s reception from 5-7 p.m. on October 26, the last night of the exhibition.
"Sector Cycle" shows the intricasies of the handmade paper and printmaking process Derick Wycherly uses to create his art.