By Jan Worth-Nelson
Note: Sadly, we have been notified that Bill died this morning, Aug. 21. Considering how much he loved space, it seems right that the sun will go dark as he passes to the other side. RIP, William Stolpin.
William Stolpin, one of two remaining members of the legendary Southeast Michigan artists’ collaborative known as DAS Print Company, is being honored in a retrospective of 29 of his works at the Flint Institute of Arts opening Sept. 16.
Stolpin, 75, a Flint native now of Holly, is an original member of the phenomenally fruitful collective, also including Carole Brender, the late Stefan Davidek and the late James Anthony. He is seriously ailing with cancer.
Titled “The Eccentric Vision of William Stolpin,” the FIA exhibit features prints recently donated to the FIA’s permanent collection by Stolpin and his family. It captures examples of all four of the major themes of his work — architecture, fantasy images, what he called “natural” images, and space-related images. Often he combines these favorite artistic obsessions, playfully and in wildly complex juxtapositions, “encouraging the viewer to find the relationships,” as his website, stolpinart.com, explains.
The FIA collection offers a tantalizing taste of the breadth of Stolpin’s work, including woodcuts, linocuts, etchings, aquatints and serigraphs.
Stolpin is perhaps best known locally for his architectural images of Flint — the Masonic Temple, Smith Bridgman’s, the original Flint Coney Island on Saginaw Street, the Torch Bar, the S.S. Kresge store, and many others. In a 2009 blog post at Flint Expatriates, Stolpin said the architectural prints started as a joint project of the DAS four in 1983. Each of the printmakers produced one architectural silkscreen print, offering them as a portfolio.
He said, “The portfolio was an instant success. Individual prints from that portfolio have increased significantly in price and are exceedingly rare, while complete 4-print suites are nearly impossible to find today.” Brender and Stolpin have continued making prints of Flint landmarks individually since, and those works appear all over town in the offices of doctors, attorneys, bankers, foundations and many private homes.
“We all have positive memories of Flint in our younger days,” Stolpin told Flint Expatriates, “and I personally wanted to share those memories with others.”
But Stolpin also avidly studied ancient and medieval history and captures and combines many images from ancient Egypt, Celtic and Renaissance themes and dragons, producing intricate and fanciful prints popular at the Renaissance Faire and the Flint Art Fair, where the DAS group have been a reliable — and much in demand — presence every year.
Stolpin was born and raised in Flint by an AC engineer father who also was a sculptor, and a stockbroker mother who was also a composer, according to the bio on his website. He went to Garfield Elementary, Emerson Junior High, and the old Northern High School. The family lived on what was then called Detroit Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) between Rankin and Taylor Streets.
Though the DAS stood for Davidek, Anthony and Stolpin, artist and printmaker Brender also was part of the group. They met to print in Stolpin’s Holly studio “religiously, once a week” for years, according to the Flint Expatriates post.
What Stolpin brought to the DAS collective when it formed in 1980 was unique. Working with the trio of more traditionally trained (though equally inventive and in some ways iconoclastic) artists, Stolpin came to the group with a degree in mechanical engineering from General Motors Institute, now Kettering University.
He was an engineer at General Motors, retiring in 1993. Stolpin’s love of the machine, especially rockets and other space accoutrements, is vividly evident. And though he was personally deeply rooted in Flint, he and his work ranged far and wide, both thematically and geographically. His work has found its way into the Boeing corporate collection and the British Interplanetary Society. Two of his space prints are in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
To his engineering degree and engineering work experience, Stolpin added an associate of arts degree from Mott Community College. He further studied at Cranbrook Arts Academy, Crown Point Press in San Francisco, and with national and internationally-known lithographers like Emil Weddige at the University of Michigan. He has also taught printmaking for more than a decade at the FIA.
Of the Flint pieces, Chene Koppitz, communications and marketing coordinator for the FIA, says the works help restore pride in the city’s history.
And in addition to the art itself, the long-standing, vigorous collaboration of the four DAS Print artists, “could easily be a mantra for the city.”
“These people bringing creativity and pride and togetherness — that’s a great message — how beautiful for Flint then, and Flint now, and Flint in the future.”
The emergence of printmaking and the popularity of fine art prints in the later half of the 20th Century was no accident, Koppitz said. In the push away from authoritarianism in the the Sixties, for example, people felt freer to “create their own spaces” and the affordability of prints was one way to do that. Thus, she said, The DAS Print artists’ love of printmaking evolved in an auspicious context for the discovery of affordable fine art by everyday people.
Of Stolpin and his long career so richly anchored in Flint, Koppitz said, “Bill has been a teacher, a co-worker; he was a fellow instructor and artist, an engineer, a father — and then he had that whole other Renaissance side — it’s just remarkable.
“We’re so, so happy to have this show here,” she added. “The notion that we can share this with a community that loves and respects Bill and the men and woman that he worked with is phenomenal.”
The Stolpin show will run from Sept. 16 through Jan. 7, 2018. Exhibit hours and further details are available at the FIA website.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.