Block head: Lambert impresses at McGuffey

Lana Lambert, "Bioluminescent Squid."
Lana Lambert, "Bioluminescent Squid."

Somewhere in my attic, buried in a box, I have a wood print block from India, carved with an ornate paisley. Its nooks and crannies still have traces of colorful inks that coated its surface when a textile artist used it to create borders on saris. Intricately cut and forever stained with its history, the block itself is a work of art.

I know Lana Lambert would appreciate it since she includes several carved blocks in her McGuffey Art Center exhibit, "From the Woods to the Ocean." Whereas many artists prefer to leave their methods a mystery, the Nelson County–based printmaker is so passionate about her process, she wants to show viewers how each part acquires a life of its own on the way to the final product.

For example, in one corner, Lambert presents an exquisite small watercolor, "Diligence Tree," painted in shades of blue, followed by three carved blocks, inky from use: two represent cloud formations extracted from the original watercolor, and one offers a woodcut version of the central tree, physically connected to and placed within a rectangular frame. Finally, Lambert presents the beautiful Japanese-style print created by combining the blocks, "Diligence is the Source of Empowerment."

Lambert is staggeringly meticulous in her craftsmanship; every cut in her blocks is precise and thoughtful. In one of a trio of small blue prints realistically depicting trees, she seamlessly shifts from positive to negative space in creating a branch. Her sense of composition is especially apparent in another trio of small tree prints, this time stylized and printed in black ink, in which twigs meld with the surrounding frame after shooting off larger branches that arc and twist poetically through the interior space.

In a quartet of ocean-focused pieces, Lambert uses letterpress to combine actual poetry with block-printed sea creatures, punctuating her type with tiny stars. She not only plays with the placement of her images, she also experiments with the physical direction of her words within the frame, especially effective in the humorous "Ensifer."

But the piece de resistance of the show, which also includes two lovely handmade books and several less successful, mixed-media paintings (think t-shirts from Grateful Dead concerts), is Lambert's "Bioluminescent Squid." Printed in layers of blue-flecked white ink on slate-green paper, the monstrous sea creature becomes magical–-its skin an ocean of lacy stars.

Lambert's masterful ability to translate her vision into traditional block printing leaves a lasting impression.

Lana Lambert's exhibition, "From the Woods to the Ocean," is on view through August 15 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.