The Periodic Table Printmaking Project

Some elements lend themselves more easily to the limelight, but in our Elemental Matters exhibition artists celebrate even the most obscure.

By Christy Schneider | July 2, 2011

The Periodic Table Printmaking Project—composed of 118 individual prints by 97 artists from 29 states, one U.S. territory, and 7 countries—is the vision of Massachusetts-based printmaker Jennifer Schmitt.

“I am the daughter of a chemistry-teacher mother and an artistic father. I grew up seeing beauty in science—fractals, genomes, quarks—as well as the chemistry of artistic media—drying times, glazes, pigments,” Schmitt says. “The idea for The Periodic Table Printmaking Project came to me one afternoon when I spread my prints on the floor and thought, ‘Gee, they look like the periodic table.’”

The Periodic Table Printmaking Project

Detail from The Periodic Printmaking Project

Detail from The Periodic Printmaking Project. Woodcut, linocut, monotype, etching, lithograph, silk screen, or in combination.

Courtesy of the artist

To invite artists to submit prints, Schmitt posted an open call on relevant websites. Artists interpreted the elements in diverse ways. Helium is depicted by a buoyant red balloon. For cadmium, thick yellow paint coats a sturdy paintbrush. An S-shaped smoke cloud escapes a volcano in the sulfur print.

Their installation in Elemental Matters marks the first time the prints have been exhibited in a periodic table layout.

“My favorite comment has been, ‘I wish I had this in my high school; I would have learned more,’” Schmitt says, adding, “Me too, and now I have.”