Freedom of the Press
Printmaker Kate Tucker celebrates native species and folklore in rural north Louisiana
With one bare foot steering the large silver press wheel, and two hands secure around the climbing boy’s bottom, his rainboots dangling over her ash-colored shop apron, this tangle of limbs and kinetic energy somehow stands in perfect poise, producing striking prints even so. With fresh ink sinking into paper, and cotton and linen, and then resting there to stir up stories of quiet afternoons, or wild encounters, or even legends.
A typical scene at the Tucker farm house a few short years ago, this kind of assured balancing act remains familiar fuel for Houston-born artist Kate Tucker whose Owl House Studio products have stretched from unique frameable prints, greeting cards and holographic stickers, to all manner of textiles.
From T-shirts and tea towels to azure-hued table runners, placemats and napkins ready for Sunday supper, the pieces are an adventurous blend of offerings from the former environmental engineer who takes inspiration from children’s folktales and her new bayou surroundings in equal measure.
Careening swallowtails, lurking gators, onlooking owls and a heron making delicate ripples, coexist with the more mythical and decidedly odd.
Tucker’s cruising wood duck paddles along with human legs. Among her menagerie are curious jackalopes, a dazzle of diving mermaids, a prancing, tooth-baring rougaroux, even a cloaked, haunting mystic figure with the tickling label “Hot Sauce on my Broom.”
Her block prints and products can be ordered directly online or found at the Attic Gallery, the oldest female-owned gallery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and at Frameworks Gallery in Baton Rouge.
“I like the directness and physicality of the method,” Tucker says of block printing. “And that suits my style. I’m not someone who does a lot of gentle shading. I like bold lines.”
Tucker’s route to tiny Mound, Louisiana, currently the least populated official village in the state with fewer than two dozen residents, was as bold and circuitous as the curving snakes she loves illustrating. After studying both studio art and science at the University of Virginia — where she “found a way to have the most amount of hours in class while getting the least credit for it with the least efficient double-major ever” — Tucker worked in Houston as an environmental scientist specializing in petroleum detection and mediation.
Then she and husband Taft welcomed a daughter, and her career perspective shifted.
“I didn’t want her seeing me do something every day that wasn’t making me happy,” Tucker says. “I realize it’s a privileged position to choose a different path, but I wanted to set an example for her of challenging yourself and trying new things.”
The Tukers settled in Mound, near Taft’s family farmland, and with a little help from Taft’s father Jim, they built Kate’s press from scratch.
“People thought we were nuts,” Tucker says.
Soon the weird wilds of Louisiana inspired her with every species she encountered on their property. Red-winged blackbirds blew her mind. Hosts of fireflies filled her nights.
“Even if you know all about bioluminescence, it still is just really a wonder to see,” she says.
Her environmental science experience informs where her block printing might go, too.
“It’s still evolving,” she says, “but it’s a swirling of science, mythology, wildlife and what I would call a lot of local intrigue.
Few of her works display this more than her mosaic-like scenes, with an almost otherworldly magnetism holding various creatures together.
They are choreographed dances of wonder.
One, called Wild Magic, is “just animals and bugs,” as she puts it, but to Tucker, the image shines with a mythic, symbolistic quality.
Perhaps this balance is ultimately rendered most in the mind of the viewers, but it must start with Tucker at the press, perhaps bare foot, perhaps thinking about her children’s homework or a scraped knee or a loose tooth, and working with traditional inks and cut blocks and illustrations that come together into something more.
“These all mean a lot to me,” Tucker muses. “They’re about there being something magical and powerful happening every day, but on such a small scale so that you may not realize it.”
At a Glance
Illustrator, product designer
Web and social
owlhousedesign.com, @owlhousestudio on Instagram
What’s the biggest misconception about printmaking?
I think many folks are confused about the difference between an art print and a block print. Block printing is old school and very hands on. I carve my blocks by hand, then for each print, I ink the block and roll it through the press. Before I had a press, I would print by rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon. Each block print will have slight variations that make it unique.
What is your favorite myth or folklore story and why?
As a child I loved The Talking Eggs, based on a Creole folktale, where the characters come across this crazy house on bird legs and the old lady, or witch, that lives inside. Later, I read Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore, and it’s virtually identical. I absolutely love when the same story pops up across cultures — which happens surprisingly often — because it just highlights how we all basically want the same things. I was also drawn to the idea that visiting this strange, magic house changes your fate, but only according to your actions and nature.
And this curiously pops up in your Owl House logo.
The house on bird legs in my logo references that idea, yes, although in the folktales the house has chicken feet. They’re a reminder to keep an open mind, especially when you encounter something new and strange.