Only one person in the group was an artist. The others were diving into serious art for the first time and came from backgrounds as disparate as line cook and produce truck driver.
But they all responded to a call last spring from Detroit News senior design director Ray Stanczak, who was recruiting anyone interested in learning the print technique called pochoir — French for "stencil."
The goal was to create a body of work to exhibit during the late-September Mid America Print Council conference in Detroit, which had put out a call for portfolios.
For six months, these ordinary citizens perfected their technique above the Recycle Here! warehouse in Detroit.
The resulting show, "And Still We Rise," is small but striking — all the more so given that these are novice artists. The exhibition is now showing at two Detroit venues: Dell Pryor Gallery and Swords into Plowshares Gallery. The Pryor show closes Oct. 25. The Plowshares exhibit runs through the end of the month.
Stanczak sees pochoir as a power-to-the-people art form, noting you can create print after print without fancy materials or fancy training.
"The thrust is that with very few resources you can produce full-color, large-scale, multiple prints," he says, "without heavy printmaking equipment, expensive paper or expensive ink. All you need is an X-Acto knife, rolls of clear acetate and perseverance."
And in the case of these prints, cheap, industrial-grade paper that was headed for the recycle bin.
Sean Day, who drives a truck for a living, produced the uncannily moody "Fort Street, 6 a.m.," a study in dark grays and dull reds based on sunrise shots he's taken over the years while driving his rounds. It's immediately captivating.
So, too, is "What Color Am I, Why Does It Matter?" by Danielle Kaltz, a Detroit News librarian. The work focuses on Viola Liuzzo, the white Detroiter and mother of fiveassassinated in 1965 by the Ku Klux Klan while working for civil rights in Alabama.
For her canvas, Kaltz utilized front pages from The Detroit News printed during the 1967 riots, with the result that multiple images of Liuzzo gaze serenely at the viewer from beneath the dark headline, "7,000 Troops Guard Detroit, Riot Loss Near $100M."
The only professional artist in the bunch, Walter Bailey, gives us an orange, handcuffed colossus titled "Free Your Mind," which practically explodes with compressed energy and tension.
Lebree Jones, who designs truck brake systems in regular life, created a stylized version of the picture of the boxer Joe Louis getting decked by Jersey Joe Walcott in a 1947 match.
Louis got knocked down twice, but time and again, he got back up.
That image not only fits with the title of this small show, it's also a marvelously apt metaphor for the city of Detroit.
'And Still We Rise'
Dell Pryor Gallery
Through Oct. 25
4201 Cass, Detroit
Swords into Plowshares Gallery
Through Nov. 1
33 E. Adams, Detroit