Three Questions

Minnesota artist Mary Esch had been a visiting artist at HP during Fall & Winter 2002, working in collaboration with Master Printer Cole Rogers on a series of etchings. Ms. Esch often creates work which follows a narrative of some kind—the Three Questions Project was inspired by a Leo Tolstoy short story, Three Questions. This project has evolved into twelve line drawings by the artist, which were then created as soft-ground etchings on copper plates. Three of the twelve images were chosen to also be printed in soft colors, which are added to the etchings by screenprinting. During a recent conversation at Highpoint, the artist discussed how she created these images, the story Three Questions and her experience as a visiting artist at Highpoint. Excerpts from that discussion follow:

HP: Tell us about the source, or inspiration, for these 12 prints—why did the Tolstoy story Three Questions intrigue you?

Mary: Well, my work often follows a narrative of some kind. I had read this Tolstoy short story, Three Questions, and it really had meaning for me. It is a story about a journey, and ultimately, redemption. I found that very significant.

HP: What are the three questions in the story and how did you work with them?

Mary: First, just to frame the questions—the story is about a Queen (I have changed Tolstoy’s main character from a King to a Queen. Working with a female protagonist was important to me…) who has reached a place of confusion in her life—she is unsure about what to do with his power. So the Queen visits her wise men and asks them three questions: What should I do? When should I do it exactly? With whom should I associate? Her advisors cannot give her a satisfactory answer, so the Queen sets off on a journey to visit a wise hermit. The hermit only consults with the poor, so the Queen of course must travel in everyday clothing and without her usual entourage. She takes along two bodyguards, who must stay in the shadows as they travel.

So, my etchings begin as the Queen starts out on the journey to visit the hermit. The twelve prints depict different points in the story as the Queen meets the hermit, trys to find answers to the three questions, and also discovers that an assassin has been stalking her.

HP: Do your prints reveal the ending of the journey in this narrative?

Mary: I suppose they do…. the Queen’s bodyguards injure the assassin before he can harm the Queen. And ultimately, the Queen attends to the wounded assassin, rather than hate him and consider him evil. And the monk, who has so far not answered her questions, finally replies to the Queen: You have answered you own questions—you should alleviate suffering, immediately, for the person who needs it most.

HP: How did your collaboration with Cole Rogers at Highpoint impact or change how you work?

Mary: The size of the project kept growing! We had decided to have the prints ready for my show at Franklin Art Works (runs January 25–March 22) and I kept adding images until the twelve final drawings emerged…. Cole was very gracious about allowing me that kind of flexibility. Also, once we decided on adding color to three of the images, I was able to choose colors, then hand them over to Cole for him to mix the inks and recreate. This was very unusual for me, since as a painter I usually have my hands in the color mixing and can get really emotionally involved in that part of the process.

About the Prints:

Mary Esch’s twelve prints, Three Questions Portfolio, is available for sale through Highpoint Center for Printmaking. A portfolio of twelve soft ground etchings with Gampi chine collé, on white Somerset Satin paper, printed from copper etching plates drawn by Mary Esch. The Portfolio of twelve comes in a custom designed cloth-covered clamshell style box. Also available, the Three Questions Triptych, a set of three soft ground etchings, each with eight screenprinted colors, on white Rives BFK paper in an edition of fifteen.