Max’s Garage Press: Berkeley’s Hidden Treasure
Guest post by Amanda Davis
At the age of two Max Stadnik tripped and fell on a Tinker Toy, lodging a rod a few centimeters into his brain and practically taking out his eye. Little did he know that the $20,000 his mother won in a settlement against the toy company would years later help fund his dream.
After graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz for print and photography, Stadnik, his partner Sanaa Khan, and two other school friends were struck with the common case of “what the fuck do I do now?” The group pulled it together on a collaboration under the name Tiny Splendor, where they began making and selling artwork right out on the sidewalks. They found relative success in the venture, which led to hosting bigger print sales, and eventually into buying a press shop of their own.
Their goal was to fill the void left by presses that had been shut down all over the Bay Area – they wanted to give local print artists the chance to actually create again.
Around 2012, Stadnik and team saw the opportunity they needed in a two-story industrial loft space deep in a residential area of West Berkeley. He slowly collected all the required equipment, aided by the settlement money from his unfortunate run-in with the Tinker Toy, and Max’s Garage Press was born. Although it is not yet known to most, it is well known to many in the printmaking and print-appreciation community. Stadnik attributes its success simply to the “right place, right time.”
“I feel like Tiny Splendor is our publishing name and our face of things and Max’s Garage Press is more of like a community space where people can gain access to printers,” Stadnik said. “It helps us sustain our practice as printmakers but also, ideally, helps other printmakers in the area.”
Two of the original school friends, Cynthia Navarro and Kenneth Srivijittakar, branched off to run a Los Angeles-based sister store to Tiny Splendor, spreading their love for print art and artists further down the coast.
Today, Max’s Garage Press resides at 1006 Pardee St. in Berkeley, in what has become a sanctuary for East Bay printmakers, and all through old fashioned word-of-mouth. “We don’t advertise at all. It’s how we started and it was nice because it was just friends, and friends of friends, and family — just people telling people they knew about it,” Stadnik said. “It keeps the good environment and it just feels right.”
The press finds different ways throughout the year to encourage local artists and maintain the “homey” vibe they’re rooted in. “Keeping print alive” was their original mission and they continue towing that line by offering things like woodblock and silkscreen print classes and intense week-long lithography courses for both experienced and beginning artists. They also make sure that rare, special materials and equipment are readily-available for artists to use. Print is definitely “alive” and flourishing within those four walls.
They built it, and the people came – the artists and the community. An estimated 3,000 people showed up for the three-day 5th Annual East Bay Print Sale, making it their most successful year yet. Monthly fees from approximately 30 members and a portion of proceeds from the annual sale help keep the place running and available year-round to local printmakers.
Tamiko Sidore was embedded in the madness of long lines and crowded rooms as both a volunteer and a seller. The print artist has participated for the past three events, and has seen the success grow over time.
“Every year it gets more organized and more people find out about it,” Sidore added. “It’s really great to see people enjoying your work in person.”
According to Stadnik, Sidore was one of about 110 artists whose work was shown at this year’s three-day public sale, up from 80 artists over a two-day span in 2016. The community’s appreciation for what Stadnik, Khan and the entire Garage Press does is clearly the backbone of their success and a major driver behind the substantial growth.
“We’ve definitely built up to this,” Stadnik said.
Local excitement and anticipation for the yearly sale has also built up quite a bit, as demonstrated by the two lines that wrapped around corners to both entrances. People waiting to get inside were treated to live folk music performed by Stadnik’s mentor, Paul Rangell. Rangell, musician and legendary printmaker, is also the mastermind behind UCSC’s 30-year-old printmaking department.
“It was really great to have him there,” Stadnik added. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Max’s Garage Press and the East Bay Print Sale are cool enough on their own, but this year’s event went the extra mile – actually 2,300 miles – for a great cause. The team brought in special prints from Mexico City artists and gave 28 percent of the press earns from each individual sale to earthquake relief.
“We went down (to Mexico City) last month and spent a lot of time connecting with other presses.” Stadnik said. “We decided to donate our 28 percent to earthquake relief down there because it hit a lot of people we know pretty hard, and it’s still pretty messed up.”
Since the sale, Stadnik has been working nonstop crunching numbers to get individual artists their hard earned pay and calculate funds to be sent down to Mexico City. Although totals are not yet in, there’s no doubt everyone involved will be happy with the results. If crowd size is any indication, it looks as though the community that Max’s Garage Press calls home is pretty damn happy too.