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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Checking In With Yetunde Rodriguez, Gem City Artist

Susan Byrnes
Yetunde Rodriguez is a Dayton-based textile artist.

If you’ve been to the new Gem City Market in Dayton, you may have noticed bold, colorful patterns on its walls, like the grid of diamond shapes over the entrance. That’s the original artwork of Dayton textile designer Yetunde Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez first learned the hands-on process of printmaking, she was hooked. Now her design business is growing fast.

"We are speaking from my new studio outside my home I just started moving in yesterday so you’re my first guest welcome. It’s downtown gorgeous view I love it. Once I get settled I’m going to start inviting people to come and print with me.

She makes her designs using a process called block printing, done by carving into a block of wood, linoleum, or rubber to make a stamp for use with ink.

"So once you’ve inked up the roller you ink up the stamp and you kind of roll back and forward until you have good coverage on the stamp," Rodriguez says as she uses a hand-held press to push the stamp into white canvas fabric, covering it with colors like bright coral red, teal, and ochre.

"You lift up the stamp, and you’ve got your impression. And I like to print and repeat, because I just have a thing for patterns, I can’t ever print once and be done, I can’t stop myself I just keep going."

She sews the fabric into pillows, curtains, and tote bags. Even though she makes a pattern with a single stamp, she doesn’t want each impression to look identical.

"That’s why I like block printing because it’s imperfect, and it shows that a human hand made it, because if I wanted it to be perfect then I would just have it printed for me. I grew up in a very maker-oriented family. All my aunts, my mother, all the women on my mother’s side of the family sew, so I learned knitting, crochet, all those things, from a young age."

Yetunde Rodriguez was born in Nigeria. Her family moved to the US when she was thirteen.

"Most of my influences come from traditional African art or even architecture," she says. "I seek inspiration from modern day African artists. I love geometric shapes I love spontaneous, whimsical type of shapes, because a lot of times when I’m trying to draw, my hand might go where I didn’t want it to, and I just embraced that as part of the design. So once I realized that that freed me up a lot to create, and I think people respond well to that."

One person who did was Gem City Market architect Matt Sauer. He saw her prints and commissioned designs for the exterior and interior walls.

Sauer said, “That kind of organic quality really relates to the market in that the market’s also handmade, it’s a community product, it’s not a big corporation. So I just felt that there was something intrinsically related between her process as an artist and then the way we ended up constructing and building the market itself.”

Gem City Market Entrance
Susan Byrnes
Yetunde Rodriguez's designs appear on the exterior and interior walls of Gem City Market.

“First it was kind of really hard for me because," Rodriguez says. "Especially working with the architects, sometimes I felt a little bit out of my depth because I thought I don’t know what language this is, talking about 'case goods' and 'elevations' and 'facades', I’m like, I don’t know about this, but eventually it just worked really well."

She says of the finished product, "It feels pretty good and I’m very excited for it because I have a son who’s also an artist, and it’s been really gratifying to be able to show him the ropes, and show him the different ways that he can use his art. So for me that’s probably the best part, is dispelling that myth of the starving artist, because I think now more than ever there’s opportunities out there, more than ever before. “

Yetunde Rodriguez's success is proof. Her passion for design is really taking her places, and she’s ready to go.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.