If you’re one of the handful of Knoxvillians who doesn’t have a Yee-Haw Industries letterpress print hanging on your wall, you can skip this article. All the rest of you, listen up!
On March 18-21, the University of Tennessee art department will be hosting the annual conference of the Southern Graphics Council International (SGCI)—the largest printmaking organization in the country. And it’s a really big deal, according to organizer and UT professor Beauvais Lyons.
Knoxville hasn’t been home to the conference since the mid-1990s, Lyons says, and that was when it was a much smaller event. But recent conferences have been in San Francisco and New Orleans, with up to 1,500 attendees.
Most of the conference sessions won’t be open to the public, but because there will be so many world-renowned printmakers in town, Lyons and SGCI are in the process of setting up a number of exhibits—at the McClung Museum, the Knoxville Museum of Art, UT’s galleries on campus and downtown, and the Emporium. And one of the two exhibits at the latter gallery will be dedicated to Yee-Haw.
“With that many people coming to town, we thought it important to have an exhibit that recognized the impact of Yee-Haw on Knoxville,” Lyons says.
This is where you, the public, comes in. Lyons and B.J. Alumbaugh—a current graduate student in the M.F.A. printmaking program and former Yee-Haw employee—are envisioning an exhibit that doesn’t just show the best prints Yee-Haw made over the years but one that also explores the relationship that owners of those prints have with the artwork.
“We’re looking for stories about the work,” Lyons says. “What’s great about Yee-Haw is that it really is art for the people. You didn’t have to travel to Europe to buy it—it’s a democratic art form. And it’s so connected to the music of this region.”
In additional to individual collectors’ works, Jason Boardman has volunteered his sizable collection of posters Yee-Haw made for shows at Pilot Light. The university’s Special Collections will also be pulling rarities from their archives for the show.
If you have a Yee-Haw work with a story behind it, and you don’t mind it disappearing from your wall for a month or so next March, contact Alumbaugh at email@example.com by July 1. Including a picture of your print is ideal, but including the story of its significance is required.
—Cari Wade Gervin