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Busily settled into a studio at Tower View, artist Tom Virgin placed his first three Red Wing images above his desk. Virgin welcomes visitors to the studio where he is carving wood cuts of Red Wing images during his month-long residency. (Photos by Ruth Nerhaugen)

Printmaker's images capture sense of community

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Printmaker's images capture sense of community
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

Just days into his latest one-month residency at the Anderson Center, printmaker Tom Virgin has covered the walls of his temporary studio with images.

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Each symbol, face and word; each broadsheet, woodcut print and photo has a story.

Anyone who knows Red Wing and Tower View will instantly be drawn to woodcut prints of iconic local images -- the tower, Boathouse Village, a tractor hauling the world's largest Red Wing boot through downtown during one of Virgin's prior visits here.

Even his copper fish, which swim in schools under glass, represent "how I talk about kids" in his Florida classroom.

Other images, less familiar on a personal level but universal in theme, capture Virgin's vision of other places -- mountains and valleys and rivers and sand dunes found in far-flung parts of the country.

He explains in his artist statement:

"Along with a narrative image, I imbue my prints, books and public art with a sense of place that both longtime residents and newcomers can find familiar.

"I also give reference to history and roots in the community with metaphors or iconic images. As a whole, my body of work reflects ongoing changes in the human landscape I live in."

Virgin is passionate about kids and about education, so he creates art that works on those levels.

Currently a resident of Coconut Grove, Fla., located in the center of Miami, he teaches art in a public high school at Hialeah -- a school where 95 percent of the students are Cuban, first- or second-generation immigrants. "I am the minority," he noted.

"I make all this stuff so they know what's out there."

Virgin is a lifelong bookworm, an avid reader whose printmaking evolved into making books as well as creating single images. His ventures into large public art projects came when he realized "I could do that."

Mostly, though, his art is about community.

"I bring my community everyplace I go. I bring Red Wing to Miami" and vice versa. "Community is the same everywhere you go."

During this, his third residency at the Anderson Center, Virgin is working on new woodcuts of local images that in his mind speak to Midwest values and all that he has discovered while here.

"I love the Red Wing community and the people," he said, citing the friendliness of people who say "Hi" and treat him as a neighbor when he's bicycling on the Cannon Valley Trail. "That's Midwest," he said.

On his easels right now are woodcut images of Boathouse Village, the dining room table at the Anderson Center residence and the spiral staircase in the iconic tower. On the wall above his desk are three finished woodblock prints of the tower, the campus and the big boot. In his pocket is a compelling snapshot of kids tubing on the Cannon River.

Ultimately, Virgin expects to have nine or 10 prints in the series.

When Saturday's Summer Celebration of the Arts is over -- he'll be in the studio visiting with people from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- he's going to propose a collaborative project. Virgin wants to create a book about the Anderson Center and its mission.

Tower View brings creativity and the arts and sciences to a place where those artists, writers and scholars have freedom -- and support -- to work, he pointed out.

"This is something that has to be," Virgin said. "The arts inform the community. Art is the part of the community that lifts us all, on some level."

The book would not be just his work, he said, but would include visual art and poetry by others who came to the Anderson Center to create. Virgin envisions "a slice of the Anderson Center experience" -- a small, limited-edition fine art print produced collaboratively with Scott King of Red Dragonfly Press, the press-in-residence at Tower View.

It could raise funds and be used to promote the Anderson Center.

Virgin invites people to visit his studio while at Tower View on Saturday. There's plenty to look at and plenty to talk about, because he's a teacher with a passion for creating and educating.

Actually, he warned, "I don't know how to not rant."

For a preview of his work, go online to www.tomvirgin.com.

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