By Aila Boyd

Editor’s note: This article is the fourth in a series of articles that will feature all 14 artists that will be participating in the 2019 Open Studios-Botetourt tour on October 26 and 27. Each week leading up to the two-day event, The Herald will feature one artist – highlighting their passion for their chosen artform.

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Nancy Dahlstrom arrived in the Roanoke Valley in 1973 at the age of 25 for a post as an art professor at Hollins University.

“I was fresh and young. I fell in love with Hollins,” she said. Earlier that same year she received a Master of Fine Arts from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She received her undergraduate degree from The State University of New York at Buffalo three years earlier.

Having started out teaching swimming when she was still an adolescent, Dahlstrom said that teaching has always come naturally to her. “I love teaching,” she proclaimed.

Creativity and a passion for art, Dahlstrom said, are in her blood.

Before photography, her great-grandfather went around painting portraits of people on little pieces of ivory. “They were maybe one to two inches round. He used tiny little brushes,” she said.

Her grandfather later opened up the first photography studio in Buffalo. The studio was eventually taken over by her parents. “I grew up in the family business in the photo studio,” she said. “Through working in the photo studio with my dad, I learned a good sense of grayscale.” Before color photography, her father would take the photos and her mother would color them by hand. To this day she still uses a small stick that her mother used to use for coloring.

“My great-grandfather liked fine, detailed work. My grandfather liked fine, detailed work. My mother liked fine, detailed work. I think my love of it is genetic,” she explained.

One of the reasons why she went into printmaking, she said, was because it’s one of the most detail intensive mediums.

While in college, she found a teacher who helped her “fall in love with printmaking.” They’re still friends to this day, she noted.

Although printmaking is her passion, she also practices a wide assortment of other art forms. While at Hollins, she taught printmaking, drawing, sculpture, bookbinding, papermaking, and several other mediums.

Her decision to pursue college-level teaching was partially influenced by the fact that she wanted to continue being able to do etching. “I couldn’t afford an etching press, so I tried to get a job at a place that would allow me access to a press,” she explained.

She joked that when she eventually turned 40, she decided against purchasing a sports car in favor of getting herself a press.

Upon accepting her position at Hollins, she decided to call Fincastle home because she wanted to live in the country.

Reflecting back on when she first joined the faculty at Hollins, Dahlstrom said that the faculty was “excellent” and that the campus was “beautiful.” To top it all off, she said that the students were actually interested in learning. “I liked the size of the campus and the intimacy,” she said.

One of the things that she especially enjoyed about teaching at Hollins was that once every seven years after she reached tenure, she was able to take a year-long sabbatical. “I would save up years ahead of time and go travel for a whole year. I would go live somewhere else. Doing that gave me a great chance to do a lot of traveling and studying,” she said.

Although she retired from teaching art at Hollins University several years ago, Dahlstrom certainly hasn’t stopped making it. On any given day she spends at least three hours, often more, working on different pieces in the detached art studio that she had constructed in her backyard seven years ago.

A large portion of her current work centers around mezzotint. Dahlstrom describes mezzotint as rocking a tool across a piece of copper metal, taking it from display a shiny surface to being completely textured. She noted that the process is “laborious” and “time-consuming.” One of the recent pieces that she completed took her 20 hours from start to finish. Once she’s finished with the etching process, she then turns to her press in order to create prints.

Part of an international mezzotint group, she traded pieces with 25 other printmakers from around the world last year. She plans on doing the same this year. “Some of them are the top printers in the world,” she said.

She has also recently been doing monoprints and watercolor paintings that she completes in one day. “I like having something that isn’t time-consuming because if it’s a beautiful day, I like to go outside and paint in nature,” she said.

Already thinking about Open Studios-Botetourt, Dahlstrom said that she’ll be doing demonstrations. She said that it’s important for the public to see how artists produce their works, especially those who use complex methods.

For more information about Open Studios-Botetourt, visit:

Although she is skilled in numerous mediums, Dahlstrom said that she particularly enjoys creating her mezzotints.
Photo by Aila Boyd