Letterpress printer Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. visits campus

Kennedy, the Fall 2023 D. Liskey-Wampler Art Professorship & Cultural Connections Artist-In-Residence, led workshops and engaged with the community

School of Art Design and Art History

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Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. leads a letterpress workshop with SADAH students
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. leads a letterpress workshop with Harrisonburg High School students in the Studio Center.

The School of Art, Design and Art History and the College of Visual and Performing Arts welcomed letterpress printer Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., Fall 2023 D. Liskey-Wampler Art Professorship and Cultural Connections Artist-In-Residence, to campus from September 17th–23rd, 2023. Professor of Graphic Design Dawn McCusker and Professor of Art Education Karin Tollefson-Hall hosted Kennedy’s visit. From his exhibition at the New Image Gallery to several workshops with students and the community, his visit offered several opportunities for the JMU and Harrisonburg community to engage with Kennedy.

Arriving daily in his signature overalls and pink shirt, Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. worked with 10 SADAH undergraduate students on a letterpress poster to benefit Our Community Place (OCP) in Harrisonburg, VA. Students in the letterpress workshop represented Architectural Design, Graphic Design, Book Arts, and Studio Art. OCP Director Matt Tibbles visited with the students to discuss the organization's mission and answer any questions. The students worked tirelessly to develop hundreds of printed posters showing the charitable work Our Community Place does for those facing homelessness and other adverse experiences. OCP used the posters for silent auction fundraising at their 2023 Gala.

Prints developed and printed by SADAH students for the 2023 Our Community Place Gala
Prints designed and printed by SADAH students for the 2023 Our Community Place Gala.

McCusker and Tollefson-Hall also held a one-day letterpress workshop with 10 Harrisonburg High School art students taught by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. The students chose a quote to print and left a personalized hand-printed poster. SADAH Art Education students led a discussion in the gallery to introduce the Harrisonburg High School art students to Mr. Kennedy and his work. "I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to aid in leading the discussion with the high schoolers...the topic was a strong conversation starter that got the students thinking about themselves, their identity, and their opinions," shares an Art Education student.

Hundreds of prints covering the walls of a small gallery
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.'s exhibition in JMU's New Image Gallery.

Many SADAH classes visited the letterpress studio with Amos throughout his visit. Once inside the studio, everyone printed! The students had a fantastic time visiting with Mr. Kennedy while printing a poster. Classes from Foundations, Photography, Art Education, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Architectural Design all engaged with Kennedy. "[His] ability to bring together a diverse group of individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives into a shared creative space at the letterpress studio was inspiring for students and faculty. Kennedy's infectious passion for his work, art, and community fostered an environment where everyone in the building was drawn to join in and create. The impact is ongoing," shares a SADAH faculty member.

The New Image Gallery exhibition featured over 1,000 Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. postcard prints, offering a visually delightful and informative experience. His posters bring typography to life, elevating the message through vibrant colors, many with multiple layers of ink and text, resulting in no two prints being truly identical. The exhibition ran from September 13th–October 14th, 2023, with a reception on September 22nd from 4–6 pm.

"Kennedy's infectious passion for his work, art, and community fostered an environment where everyone in the building was drawn to join in and create. The impact is ongoing."
-SADAH Faculty Member

100 printed posters from Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.'s visit will be archived in the JMU Special Collections for students to learn from him. In addition, he graciously donated hundreds of his postcards from the exhibition to keep for the university's permanent collection. 

Also during Kennedy's visit, Grafton Stovall Theater hosted a screening of Proceed and Be Bold!, the story of his transformation and journey from AT&T systems analyst to working-class printer. The story unfolds through the eyes of Kennedy, his family, his friends, and former colleagues around the country who have grown to admire Kennedy as much for who he is as his bold, unapologetic, and culturally informed work. Grafton Stovall Theater screened the documentary on Tuesday, September 19th, and Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. hosted a Q+A with the audience after the screening.

Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. led workshops and inspired community outreach, leaving a long-lasting mark on students and faculty through the Cultural Connections Residence Program (CCRP). The program aims to bring diversity, in all its forms, to the JMU campus and to provide opportunities for students to engage with artists from multiple disciplines. CCRP was established in 2007–2008 as a collaboration between Inclusion at JMU and the College of Visual and Performing Arts. The Office of the Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and the CVPA Council for Inclusive Excellence encourage proposals that enhance the diversity of thought, perspective, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status and background, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural experiences.

Prints propped up in the studio
Some of Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.'s prints on display in the studio.

Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. is an American printer, book artist, and papermaker best known for social and political commentary, particularly in printed posters. Kennedy creates prints, posters, and postcards from handset wood and metal type, oil-based inks, and eco-friendly and affordable chipboard. His posters feature proverbs, sayings, and quotes Kennedy locates or clients provide. One critic noted that Kennedy was “...unafraid of asking uncomfortable questions about race and artistic pretension.” The Library of Congress has in its collection nearly 250 of his letterpress prints, posters, and ephemera created between 2003 and 2020. Further distinctions include an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, winning a Joyce Award, main stage speaker at the American Institute of Graphic Arts design conference, and a 2015 United States Artists Glasgow Fellow in Crafts.

This exhibition and documentary contain graphic images and words that viewers may find disturbing. This exhibit and documentary are intended for mature audiences, and viewer discretion is advised. Views and positions expressed are those of the artists and do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of the university.

Published: Friday, January 19, 2024

Last Updated: Friday, January 19, 2024

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