While at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a bachelor’s degree in painting, he stumbled upon a printmaking class, and the rest was history.
“When I went to graduate school, I switched over to printmaking, and I guess what attracted me about that is the physical nature of making a print — working on plates and etching the plates and scraping and burnishing and the physical process of printing inking plates and pulling images,” Ehlbeck said. “I took my first printmaking course and I said, ‘This is it.’”
Since then, Ehlbeck has followed his passion for the art form, traveling both domestically and internationally to showcase and create with others. The most recent trip involved an invitation to the United Arab Emirates to visit the University of Sharjah and the American University of Dubai.
He will discuss his travels, the printmaking techniques he taught there and the prints and etchings he created with the students at the University of Sharjah at the FRANK art gallery tonight as part of the Graphics: Drawing and Prints exhibition that runs until July 5.
In his lecture, he will show images of what he experienced while traveling and teaching throughout the United Arab Emirates — including presenting the print he and the students created together to His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council, ruler of Sharjah and President of the University of Sharjah.
Jean Lecluyse , the curator of the exhibition, said Ehlbeck was the perfect speaker due to his emphasis on traditional printmaking techniques, which is the main focus of the exhibition.
“He’s a delightful person, so I wanted him to be in this print show because he is so well known, and he uses really traditional techniques, and that’s what the show is about,” Lecluyse said.
She said he would be addressing any questions about the art of printmaking itself and certain techniques used. And answering questions will relate to something Ehlbeck is already familiar with: teaching, which he became used to during his time as a professor and department chair of printmaking at East Carolina University. He left last spring after 30 years, but not before impacting the next generation of printmakers.
Former students include Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers , Ben Briggs — now an ECU printmaking instructor — and Judy Jones , a printmaker and the gallery manager of 311 Gallery and Studios in Raleigh.
“I was a nontraditional student going to get my graduate degree, and he was my professor, and I learned a great deal from him, and I admired his work — I think his work has been constant,” Jones said. “He’s a fabulous craftsman — I’ve always been so impressed by him.”
That sense of wonder leads into his professional life as well, as his ECU art department colleagues cite his vibrancy to shine through, both inside and outside of his art.
“The overarching qualities that I found most inspiring (as a former student and as a colleague) were his knowledge of the printmaking medium, his technical virtuosity and his wonderful and ever present sense of humor,” said Scott Eagle , assistant director of the school of art and design, graduate studies director and associate professor of painting and drawing.
“But most of all, I will miss that constant laugh, funny T-shirts and his stories.”
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