Lasting Impression

Kristen Necessary honors the culture of her native mountains in her print shop. Photo by Tim Robison

Kristen Necessary honors the culture of her native mountains in her print shop. Photo by Tim Robison

Wheels have sworn by it for decades. Three years ago, living in Iowa City, Kristen Necessary formed a bond with the quirky little nut, poring over greased chains and rivets while working on her bike.

Unknowingly, she had begun a serpentine path to the mountain-biking hub of Brevard.

A trademark of Cane Creek Cycling, the unusual-shaped metal bit was introduced into the biking world by Asheville-based Vietnam veteran Doug Beeler. The aircraft-pilot-turned-inventor borrowed the idea from the way the piece was used in a swiveling office chair.

The nut adds rotation and durability to a bike’s headset — part of what connects the front wheel to the handlebars. Today, Necessary’s boutique print shop, Starfangled Press, is, like its namesake mechanical part, “a connector,” she says. “I like the idea that a [printing] press does brings artists together, and art to people.”

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

Printmaking is an evident junction in Necessary’s personal life, as well. Raised in coal country in Central Appalachia, the sixth-generation Virginian spent her childhood yearning for more. Her father owned a small chain auto-supply store, and her mother served as the company’s secretary. Necessary spent long summer days at the warehouse; at night, she cruised the sleepy-eyed town. The area was plagued by a resistance to change, and life often seemed static, she notes.

But discovering the slow and methodical process of fashioning intaglio prints (copper and zinc etches) while at Virginia Commonwealth University served her well — and gave her time to reflect on her roots with a more artistic eye. Her first series, “Abandoned by Attachment,” featured inky renditions of derelict homes. Old farmhouses contrast against yellowed paper, their missing planks offering a look within. Ravens perch on deep black smokestacks, and windows seep darkness, like an Appalachian House of Usher.

“Maybe a family member died, and no one knew what to do,” says Necessary, lending a narrative to the often macabre scenes. “They couldn’t let go and move on, so it became abandoned.”

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

In other prints, Royal Crown Cola ads anoint a garage wall, battling muck and weeds for real estate, and oaks overshadow a mint-green bungalow. Many of Necessary’s collections of prints are concerned with exploring place.
And after graduating from the University of Iowa’s MFA program in 2013, she returned to the mountains she’d once tried so hard to escape. Brevard paralleled Virginia, in feeling as well as landscape.

Her shop, open since early April, is firmly Southern Appalachian in theme. Mountain laurels bloom — she refers to their “quirky spaceship buds” — on screenprinted lightweight paper, and campfires burn on hand-carved notecards. Totebags flash place-proud axioms like “We Ain’t Quaint” and instruct visitors in proper pronunciation: “App-Uh-Latch-Uh.” Though she says she’s not set on promoting the insider/outsider divide, Necessary supposes natives should have the privilege of determining phonetics.

“Camp,” a 35” x 36” linocut, features rhododendrons by a fire that roars in black-and-white near a pitched tent. Towering in the background, Looking Glass Rock draws the eye upward.

“It was printed by a Toyota Highlander,” says Necessary with a laugh. When a linoleum-block workshop at Asheville Bookworks went awry, and the industrial-grade steamroller typically used to press linocuts puttered out, an artist rolled an SUV across everyone’s pieces. “What a dedicated volunteer,” she remembers. “It was six to eight hours of that.”

Perhaps such a chronicle corroborates the community-motivated nature of printmaking. In the Late Middle Ages, villages rallied around print shops; the era’s version of heavy equipment requiring synergy and manpower. Nowadays, Necessary opens her shop to other local printmakers, charging a small fee for studio time. She also hosts regular classes and a drawing club, which meets Wednesdays from 4-6pm. And she hopes the outreach programs will bring her closer to a land she now reveres.

“For me, there is a general concept of Appalachia,” Necessary says. “It’s hard to define, because there aren’t exact boundaries. It’s just more of an idea and feeling than a geographic area.”

Starfangled Press is located at 36 West Jordan St. in Brevard, open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10am-6pm. See or call 828-484-1284 for more information.

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