Jack Lemon opened Landfall Press in 1970 and continues to operate it in Santa Fe, having collaborated with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Chuck Close, Robert Indiana, and Lesley Dill, among others.
SANTA FE, NM—Landfall Press feels like part printmaking studio, part museum.
In an unassuming warehouse off Siler Road in Santa Fe, the long-running press is home to 6,000 square feet of floor-to-ceiling artwork, art-in-progress, archives, drawers of inventory, shelves of vintage lithography stones, work areas, and seemingly archaic equipment and machines that are nevertheless in use.
In the center of Landfall is the Marinoni Voirin press, a beast of a machine that was originally steam-powered and printed Henri Toulouse-Lautrec pieces in Paris. It takes three people to operate it.
But at Landfall’s true center, its heart, is Jack Lemon, the man who founded the press in 1970.
“It’s gonna have to settle for another week,” master printmaker and Landfall director Steven Campbell says to Lemon on a recent weekday morning, eyeing a new poster print.
Lemon leans over the table, taking it in and nodding his head. One can’t help but notice his bright red sneakers and eyes that have that sparkle of time. At eighty-five years old, Lemon is still active as the president of the company and collaborates with artists regularly.
It’s in the collaboration that Lemon derives the joy of his work—picking up a needle and thread to sew portions of Lesley Dill’s paper dresses; discovering new artists and introducing them to printmaking when they (very often) had no prior experience in the medium; hunting down the perfect materials to execute a piece, even if it meant going to the ends of the Earth—locating old lithography stones from Japan, for instance, in an age when most printmakers use metal plates. Lemon bends the rules and makes up his own to realize the visions of the artists, often utilizing sophisticated processes that other presses are incapable of, giving the finished work an elegance not often seen in the medium.
“I always want to make the best possible piece with the best artists,” Lemon says. “I don’t want to limit them.”
To celebrate the milestone of Landfall surpassing fifty years, Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe is showing a retrospective of Landfall prints through March 6, 2022.
“When you ask him how he picks the artists he works with—because he’s been able to spot these talents that we then recognize decades later—he says, ‘I just pick what I like,’” says Miranda Metcalf, who co-curated the show with gallery owner Tonya Turner Carroll. Metcalf also recently interviewed Lemon on her Hello, Print Friend podcast. “He’s certainly a legend within printmaking.”
Though Lemon showed an early interest in art and enjoyed sketching portraits as a boy, his path into and through the art world has been somewhat unorthodox. An orphan at four years old, he grew up primarily in the foster care system, then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age sixteen. After serving four years, he wanted to put himself through school on the G.I. Bill and originally considered studying history and becoming a teacher.
“The art thing kind of snuck in,” he says—which is humorous, given his legacy in the printmaking world today and the massive collection of artwork that surrounds him inside the Landfall warehouse.
As he tells it, he was walking down the street one day in Kansas City when he saw The Art Institute and wandered inside. “I got a tour, and when they took me into the painting studio, it really excited me,” he recalls. “I started out sanely; I wanted to be a graphic designer. Painting is hands-on, which I liked, but printmaking is really hands-on.”
He studied traditional stone lithography at the school and, from there, was invited to be an assistant at Tamarind Institute, then located in California, where he grained stones every day but continued to stretch his skills.
He went on to build a printmaking shop in Nova Scotia and then, in 1970, Landfall in Chicago, where it would remain until 2004 when Lemon felt the pull of Santa Fe and relocated.
Before opening in Chicago, Lemon had already begun building a list of artists in his mind with whom he wanted to work (“It seemed like I was coming up with an artist every five minutes,” he recalls), and toward the top of that list was Christo.
In typical Lemon fashion, he spontaneously phoned Christo while visiting New York. Jean-Claude answered and invited Lemon to their studio, where they brainstormed ideas for what would become the duo’s first foray into printmaking: a portfolio of unrealized projects.
Beyond Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Lemon has worked with numerous big-name artists—Chuck Close, Robert Indiana, Kara Walker, and Judy Chicago among them.
For the Turner Carroll exhibition, Tonya Turner Carroll and Metcalf looked at every framed print at Landfall and focused on the most important artists Lemon had worked with, Turner Carroll says, adding, “It’s almost like he found a family in artists.”