West Virginia printing company celebrates end of first exhibit

Oct. 7—FAIRMONT — Base Camp Printing highlights the beauty of West Virginia, without leaving the state.

Thursday evening, the two sisters behind the letterpress printing company, Emily and Betsy Sokolosky, joined community members and Fairmont State University students and professors for a closing ceremony of their first exhibit. The exhibit has been on display in Wallman Hall at Fairmont State since August, and it will conclude on Oct. 7.

In 2016, after learning how to screen print at West Virginia University and working at Kin Ship Goods, a boutique in Charleston, Emily started Base Camp Printing inside of the boutique. Betsy joined her six months later. They are Charleston natives and have a store located on the west side of town, at 613 Tennessee Ave. They specialize in custom made posters, buttons, stickers and cards.

Everything they make is designed using old-school printing machines, oil-based paint used for screen printing and linoleum blocks — which are carved out by hand. Their art includes themes of activism, consumerism and West Virginia culture.

“[We showcase] West Virginia as a beautiful place of potential, rather than someplace that we’re stuck in, which can often be the narrative. … I think for the longest time, I didn’t know that West Virginia was the butt of a joke. I thought, ‘I live in this beautiful place, this is awesome,’ and then you kind of learn to be ashamed of it. So, we try to kind of fight against those negative stereotypes because the state’s beautiful and the people are so genuine and friendly. … It’s nice to be a positive source of imagery and something that people can hang on their walls and be proud of,” Betsy Sokolosky said.

Emily explained that the name for Base Camp Printing came after moving around to various places trying to make her passion a career. She said that often times people say that you need to leave West Virginia to make things happen, but it was when she moved back to Charleston — her base camp —that everything sort of fell into place.

At Fairmont State, the screen-printing major is predominantly female students, so assistant professor of art, Kylie Ford, knew she wanted to bring in two successful female business owners who made a name for themselves in the screen-printing industry.

“I remember reading their work and remaining in awe in ways that they’re able to capture the essence of our state in a beautifully graphic, as well as incredibly prolific print series. … This, alongside their meaningful display in West Virginia culture and activism, made them the perfect makers that I really wanted to share with our department, our students and our greater community of Fairmont and North Central West Virginia,” Ford said.

As female business owners in a historically male-dominated industry, the Sokoloskys said they can often be underestimated or misunderstood.

“There are a lot of older printers who may be surprised that, you know, we’re not just watching the register — we own the business, and we know how the press works and everything like that. But for the most part, being our own bosses and being able to kind of make those choices about what serves us and what doesn’t — I feel like we have taken back a lot of the control, but it’s definitely been a learning process for us,” Betsy said.

Emily agreed and added making a career out of art has its own set of challenges.

“You try not to not put that pressure on yourself to be perfect because showing your art is a vulnerable thing and you are just opening yourself up to so much criticism, but sometimes the worst critic is yourself,” Emily Sokolosky said.

For Bee Spevock, a sophomore student majoring in studio art, they are looking forward to pursuing different art forms and possible minors. Spevock was already interested in screen printing, but after visiting the exhibit and getting to test a printing machine out, they are considering taking a screen-printing course.

“The process of printmaking can be so daunting at first but seeing everything laid out and that it’s just an artistic process, makes it easier. It makes it seem like anyone can do it,” Spevock said.

Emily shared advice for people interested in pursuing a career in screen or letterpress printing. She said to not be afraid to reach out to people who inspire you because it is how she was able to get different opportunities and experiences and the worst they will say is no.

“I think it’s important to know that no one knows what they’re doing. Like, I was under the impression that people knew what they were doing. … I don’t know if you’ll ever feel like completely ready to do something, but, if it’s calling you, go for it,” Emily said.

For more information on Base Camp Printing, visit their website or call 304-549-9749.

Reach me at sshriver@timeswv.com or 304-367-2549.

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