Rhode Island Street gets inked — with a steamroller 

click to enlarge Block party: Rik Olson’s prints are on view at the San Francisco Center for the Book in conjunction with his appearance at the Roadworks: A Steamroller Printing Festival on Saturday. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Block party: Rik Olson’s prints are on view at the San Francisco Center for the Book in conjunction with his appearance at the Roadworks: A Steamroller Printing Festival on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, a 3-ton steamroller will drive up and down roped-off Rhode Island Street, all in the name of art.

For the ninth year, the San Francisco Center for the Book invites the community to  Roadworks: A Steamroller Printing Festival. The free event on Portrero Hill showcases artists making prints in the middle of the road, using big, beefy construction equipment.

“Being artists, we’re not very practical,” says printmaker Rik Olson, a Sonoma-based artist who has participated in the festival since its inception. “But it’s on such a big scale, people can see the relief printing process as it’s being done. It’s a very energetic atmosphere. They usually cheer, too.”

Five artists chosen by the SFCB will bring carved, 3-foot square linoleum blocks to Rhode Island Street, and ink them on site.

The process is like making a sandwich, starting with a plywood and Mylar bed, then the linoleum block, and then blank paper, which is placed on the block by the “clean hand crew.”

Carpet and blankets create the final top layer before the steamroller driver gets the signal to roll over the print. The finale: clean-handed paper-holders hold up the print for everyone to see.

“The scary part for the artist is the first time you see the first proof of the print,” says Olson. “Of course you see all your mistakes right away, and you hope nobody else does. It generally turns out pretty good.”

The prints are sold; the fair is a fundraiser for the SFCB’s educational programs, which include workshops and classes dedicated to bookmaking and printing arts.

Olson, who has done a steamroller-themed print each year, is inspired by his grandfather who, coincidentally, was a steamroller driver in Oakland.

“He used to drive a huff-and-puff steamroller that used real steam. Now they’re called road levelers,” says Olson. Describing his contributions, he adds, “I’ve played with the image. Right now the steamroller is traveling through time, with a time machine attached to it. Last year it landed in 1510.”

Oakland-based poster-designer Favianna Rodriguez, Dutch Door Press letterpress designer Anna Branning, Black Magus magazine co-founder Caitlin Mattisson and artist Mike Kimball also are printing on Saturday. Participants from project Papergirl San Francisco are helping, as well.

The SFCB gallery is hosting Olson’s first San Francisco solo show, “Rik in Detail,” featuring his previous Roadworks print series. The exhibit is on view through Oct. 20.

IF YOU GO

Roadworks: A Steamroller Printing Festival

Where: Rhode Island Street (between 16th and 17th streets), S.F.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: Free

Contact: (415) 565-0545, http://sfcb.org

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Lauren Gallagher

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