Erick Sahler illustrations spanning nearly 40 years of professional creativity are featured throughout July in the “RETROspective: Erick Sahler” exhibit, open through July 31 at the Dorchester Center for the Arts.
In the main gallery of Dorchester Center for the Arts at 321 High St. are 25 of the fine art silkscreen prints the artist has designed and printed by hand since starting Erick Sahler Serigraphs Co. in 2011. Almost all the prints in this exhibit have an Eastern Shore flavor, providing a view of Delmarva that is somehow both nostalgic and contemporary.
Premiering at a show last weekend was his new silkscreen print edition, a Downtown Cambridge street scene called “Town + Country.”
Also new in 2021 are silkscreen print editions featuring the Assateague Beach Life-Saving Station near Chincoteague and Lightship Overfalls in Lewes.
Other prints pay tribute to Harriet Tubman (“Northbound”); celebrate summer beach life (“OC Boardwalk” and “Beachbound”); highlight attractions in Cambridge, Salisbury, Oxford and St. Michaels; and salute everything Eastern Shore from “Blue Crabs” and Boardwalk fries (“Rule No. 1”) to Delmarva Shorebirds baseball (“First Pitch”).
Many of these prints are collectible one-of-a-kind pieces — including Artist’s Proofs, the No. 1 print in a series, or the last print available in the edition.
The solo retrospective also includes commercial and editorial illustrations, cartoons and textile designs to provide a complete view of Sahler’s career.
“This exhibit includes examples of basically everything I’ve ever done as an illustrator, from T-shirt designs I did in 1983 to newspaper editorial illustrations and cartoons to commissioned pieces to the serigraphs which are the core of the illustration business I have built over the past 10 years,” Sahler said.
“It’s always a pleasure to go back and revisit work that I did along the way, and connect the dots from what I created then to get to where I am now,” he said. “You couldn’t see the connections as it was happening, but in retrospect it is all very clear and it all makes sense.”
The exhibit begins in the arts center’s hallway with a re-creation of a commercial art department. Pencil drawings, ink line art and mechanicals used to create printing plates line the walls. Featured are a collection of Sahler’s T-shirt designs from the early 1980s, editorial cartoons and Weekend section covers from his more than two decades of newspaper work, commissioned works for regional and national organizations, and even a reproduction aluminum dredge license Sahler created for skipjacks still oystering on the Chesapeake. A Tools of the Trade display gives insight into how he creates his prints, which Sahler calls “Eastern Shore Art for the Rest of Us.” Near a “Downtown Salisbury” silkscreen print will be a dozen hand-cut mechanical separations used to make the stencils for silkscreen printing.
“Generally when you go to an art show you see only the finished pieces. You don’t have a chance to peek into the mind of the artist to see how the piece developed and what it took to get it to that finished piece,” Sahler said. “This exhibit will give people a feeling for what it’s like in the print shop where I create these prints and illustrations. I hope people leave this exhibit with a better understanding of how commercial art is created.”
Sahler was first showcased at the Dorchester Center for the Arts in summer 2018, as part of a trio of Eastern Shore artists. The solo “RETROspective: Erick Sahler” exhibit was planned two years ago, but was delayed by the pandemic shutdown until this July so it could be held as a full in-person show.
Thanks to the delay, the exhibit coincides with a major milestone for Sahler’s career. This month, Sahler is marking the 1oth anniversary of the founding of the Erick Sahler Serigraphs Co. This exhibit provides an opportunity to reflect on the work done during that time, and in the decades leading up to it.
“At the time that I created each piece, each one was my child and I was proud at the time and considered it the best thing I ever did. Not everything holds up over time but most do, and it was a pleasure to dig into my files and find favorites as well as ones I barely remembered,” Sahler said.
Sahler will have many new illustrations this year, next year and beyond.
“I maintain a list of possible next prints in my mind and am constantly thinking about what’s next. Right now the list has at least 30 ideas on it, and what’s next is determined in part by what my shops need for their customers, because what sells in Chincoteague may not sell in Oxford, and what sells in Cambridge isn’t the same as what sells in Snow Hill,” Sahler said. “There will be new pieces for Chincoteague, Oxford and Lewes for next year for sure, but there’s always room for new inspirations that I just fall in love with.”
These days some of those new inspirations go straight into designs for digital only prints, including Metro-style maps of several towns and pandemic-era prints like last year’s “Stay Home” (made available as a free PDF as well as sold as prints and postcards) and this summer’s “Bonfire” (Rediscover Yourself, Assateague National Seashore).
The full catalog of Erick Sahler Serigraph Co. designs may be viewed on and ordered from his website, ericksahler.com. Silkscreen prints, legacy and digital-only prints, postcards and stickers are available.