As Superstorm Sandy barreled toward the East Coast in late October, it became more urgent for Paula Panczenko, the executive director of Tandem Press, to get to New York.

So she jumped on a plane before the start of the 2012 International Fine Print Dealers’ Association Print Fair, an important event in the art world — and the most significant sales venue of the year for the artwork that’s created by UW-Madison’s Tandem Press.

Panczenko made it to Manhattan just before Sandy struck. But the two curators who normally put together Tandem’s exhibit at the New York show, Amy Newell and Tim Rooney, were stranded in Madison. Newell emailed a former UW-Madison art student, now a New Yorker, to ask for his help. He was out of the country but sent word to two of his friends.

The friends biked in from Brooklyn — there was no public transportation running — and helped Panczenko unpack and hang the prints from Madison. The works went up just in time for the IFPDA Print Fair opening on Park Avenue, delayed one day because of Sandy.

Sales for Tandem at that show, Panczenko said, were “very good.”

The tale illustrates Tandem’s entrepreneurial spirit and the broad reach that Tandem Press, founded 25 years ago, now has across the country. More than 300 university students and 63 early-career and well-established artists have worked at the fine art press, whose very name — Tandem — is about the collaboration between artists and master printers.

“We call ourselves Team Tandem,” said Panczenko, who has headed Tandem, housed in an airy industrial space on Madison’s Near East Side, since 1989. “This place is so collaborative.”

Exhibition at Chazen

Tandem Press is celebrating its 25th anniversary with an exhibition through Feb. 3 at the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus.

The exhibition, which includes a reception on Thursday and tours by Tandem staff throughout January, includes works by major contemporary artists such as Judy Pfaff, Suzanne Caporael, Robert Cottingham, Nicola Lopez and Sean Scully.

All have had residencies at Tandem, which selects artists to fly in to Madison and put up at a hotel while the artist has free rein to work with the press’ master printers and its broad range of equipment.

“Generally, the artist is here for a week to two weeks, or maybe a month on and off if the project is very complicated,” Panczenko said. “Sometimes the work can start without the artist being here because the printers and the artists know each other so well.”

Many of Tandem’s guest artists are primarily painters or sculptors, who can work with the press’ four master printers to stretch into a new medium. Printmaking is labor intensive, often involving experimentation with papers, plates, inks, pressures, layers upon layers of color and texture to create an image exactly to an artist’s specifications.

“We help the artist get set up,” said longtime master printer Andrew Rubin.

“It’s their ideas. We think, ‘How can we do that, they want this background but they want this other part more solid,” he said, pointing to a proof of an ethereal print in shimmering grays by artists Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett.

Founded in 1987

Art professor William Weege founded Tandem Press in 1987 to give students experience in a viable printing and publishing operation.

Each year, 15 UW-Madison students assist in the Tandem workshop, learning a range of fine-art printing techniques from Old World (woodblock printing) to high-tech (a plotting machine directed by a file sent by Illustrator).

“Part of what they do (at Tandem) is give you a different sort of education that’s separate from what you’re doing at the university in classes,” said Lenore Thomas, who volunteered and worked at Tandem Press in graduate school and today teaches printmaking at the University of Pittsburgh.

“You’re learning the technical skills from them, but you’re also working with all these famous artists and learning different approaches to things and problem-solving. There’s no doubt that the knowledge I got there from the curators and the master printers and the visiting artists altered me as an artist and the way I work.”

Tandem is one of only three university-affiliated art presses in the nation working as a professional press. Sales of its prints account for 85 percent of its budget;

10 percent comes from fundraising and 5 percent is from the UW-Madison School of Education, within which Tandem is located.

Through the years, Panczenko has also tapped into other talents at the university, particularly the School of Business, where graduate students have done market analysis for Tandem and helped with strategic planning, marketing and accountancy.

Most Tandem prints are made in editions of 30, two-thirds of which are sold on the open market by Tandem’s curators or at the seven national art shows they visit each year. Prices for a print range from $200 to $16,500, with the average costing $1,600. Profits are split with the artist 50/50.

As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, Tandem Press will host a national print symposium in Madison at the end of January. It’s also raising $5 million to construct a new building just east of the Kohl Center, next to the art department’s Art Lofts.

Panczenko is confident the fundraising will be successful and Tandem Press’ new home will open by 2014.

“We have a lot of friends,” she said.

“A lot of great friends.”

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