Close Menu
Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Serigrapher Sahler to unveil ‘Berlin’ print at 2nd Friday

(March 12, 2015) Call it retro or nostalgic, minimalist or modernist. Artist Erick Sahler, however, calls his work “regional pop” and it has become nearly ubiquitous on the Eastern Shore.
The Salisbury native has a rich history of work that includes designs for brands such as Perdue Farms and the Delaware International Speedway as well as more than 20 years at the Salisbury Daily Times.
His most recognizable work, however, began in 2011 with the launch of Erick Sahler Serigraphs and an ever-expanding series of prints depicting the essence of the region, often in eight colors or less.
Sahler fell into the art of screen printing, or serigraphs, as a high school student. The Salisbury resident was taking art lessons with watercolorist Keith Whitelock when he was introduced to Dave Rossi, owner of Chincoteague Screen Printing.
“We struck up a conversation and Dave said, ‘Come on over. I’m looking for some help if you’re interested.’ That was a Wednesday and I started that Saturday and worked there for six years all through high school, all through college. I learned every aspect of screen printing.
“It was a great first job when all my friends were slinging Arby’s,” Sahler continued. “I was getting to do artwork and see my stuff right away on T-shirts and mugs. There’s still stuff in Chincoteague that they’re selling that I did back in ’83.”
Screen printing, Sahler said, was “tucked away inside my brain” while he pursued a career in advertising.
“I figured I’d go off to college, end up in New York City, Madison Avenue, big time,” he said. “After a year in Baltimore, I decided, ‘Hey, you know Baltimore is cool.’ It’s a big enough city, it’s close to home, close to the beach, close to family. So I kind of lowered my sites to, an ad agency in Baltimore.”
After four years away, however, Sahler found himself overcome by homesickness.
“I had just had it with the masses,” he said. “I figured I’d come home and work for [an agency in Salisbury]. And then I ran into Dick Fleming.”
Fleming told Sahler the Daily Times was redesigning the Lifestyle section of the paper, and asked if he was interested in contributing illustrations.
“When I walked into the newsroom for the first time it was the most exciting place I had ever been,” he said. “It was buzzing. The air was electric. This is where I wanted to work. It seemed like the coolest room in town, so I got sidetracked and I did that for 22 years.”
Sahler climbed the ranks to managing editor, but became burned out when massive cutbacks imposed by ownership threatened to cripple the paper.   
“When the newspaper business started to circle the drain, I said, ‘I’ve got to find something to do because there’s no way I’m going to retire in the newspaper business,’” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to keep a guy my age around for another 15 years.
“I really wracked my brains for a couple months and there wasn’t anything out there, there wasn’t any profession that appealed to me long term,” Sahler continued. “I could go be a schoolteacher, but I would hate doing that.”
Inspiration struck when Sahler, while driving across the marsh on Deal Island on a story assignment, had an epiphany.
“I was down there kind of checking it out and making sure it was just the way I remember it, and coming back across that marsh it was like a blue bolt of lightning hit me,” he said. “I was thinking about this screen printer up in D.C., Craig English, and I heard the words, ‘Be that guy. Be that guy on the Eastern Shore.’ I came home and I told my wife, ‘I figured it out. I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.’”
Sahler spent two years converting the loft space over his garage into a state-of-the-art serigraphy studio, closing in the open space, adding electrical wiring and a dark room, and sourcing equipment, including an out-of-service light table from the newspaper, for his new dream project.
“In that time, we went through six furloughs at the paper and laid off half the staff,” he said. “After that last furlough, I went back on a Monday morning, the place was on fire and I just felt like there’s no water in the hose. I can’t do this anymore. I went in and I told [then Editor in Chief Greg Bassett, who also has since left the paper] ‘I think I’m done.’
“I wasn’t doing anything I liked,” Sahler continued. “I went there to do illustration and graphics – and I got into page design, I did some editorial cartoons, I had a wall-full of awards and all that stuff – and here I am for 10 years [as managing editor] doing budgets and employee evaluations. Everything that caught fire, I was the one that had to put that out ultimately. And I was not equipped for that. I wasn’t wired for it.”
As soon as he committed to making the change, Sahler said, he knew it was the right decision.
“It was about two and a quarter years from when I said, ‘This is what I want to do’ to when I actually set up the press, burned a screen, pulled a squeegee and printed something,” he said. “It was all familiar in that I had done it long ago and done it for so long. Screen printing is one of those things where the learning curve is pretty steep, but levels off pretty quickly. Nothing really changes once you get your process down.”
Sahler’s prints use bold colors and the flat design of serigraphy to produce work that appears both contemporary and nostalgic. One of the signature elements is his adaptation of National Parks Service typography from the 1920s and 1930s.
“The WPA did a series of prints celebrating the national parks and state parks before the outbreak of World War II and this is a font they used a lot of,” Sahler said. “That kind of takes it back to that era.”
Each edition requires a month of work and produces roughly 120 prints. Sahler started printing in August 2011, and by Christmas had four editions.
“Going through that season I did a couple shows here and there and sold some things, which felt good, but not enough to convince me that this is something that could be a viable business long term,” he said.
Things took off for Sahler Serigraphs during the following year, after showing work at Sundial Books in Chincoteague.
The building, he said, appeared “glowing on the hill, light was pouring out of it,” while taking a walk down the street at 9 o’clock at night.
“I went in, fresh books all around, and struck up a conversation with what turned out to be the owner and his wife,” Sahler said. “It was just a true godsend for me.
“Once I got into Chincoteague, I thought this could be a good business,” Sahler continued. “The last two years down there, when I have a new printing, it’s like the Apple Store when the iPods came out. People line up. It’s mayhem.”
Thus far in 2015, Sahler has worked exclusively with Worcester County locales, using Berlin and Snow Hill as backdrops and working on a commission for the Dunes Manor Hotel in Ocean City.
Sahler unveiled the Snow Hill edition at Bishop’s Stock Fine Art, Craft and Wine last month.
“It was a big night and we sold a lot then and I think has had a good month with it,” Sahler said. “Anne was actually the first shop to take me in. In 2009, when I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ I thought if I ever get work in there, I will have made it. It’s a classy gallery, prime time artists. I can’t say enough about it and she’s just true patron of the arts. She’s just been tremendous for me.”
The print uses what Sahler called “a long view” of Green Street.
“It’s just pretty,” he said. “It’s got this old-timey feel that looks like a Norman Rockwell background, and then there are these buildings that are in these different greens and purples. It kind of gives you a sense that there’s a little bit of culture there, but there’s also this rustic sensibility. The two coming together, to me, was really Snow Hill.”
The Berlin print debuts on Friday, March 13, at Bungalow Love during the town’s 2nd Friday art stroll.
While Sahler has been successful, many other fine artists hit a brick wall when trying to make a living on the Eastern Shore. His advice? Run it like any other business.
“You hear a lot of artists on the Eastern Shore complain, ‘There’s nothing here for us,’” he said. “If you want to do pure art, no, this isn’t the market for doing pure art. But if you want to do art as a business, you can find a niche because the market is here. It may not be farmers and waterman, but there’s plenty of professors and lawyers and people at the hospital. There’s plenty of people in the education system. There’s plenty of people here already that would have an interest and the means to support art.
“On top of that, everywhere you look in every direction around Salisbury, 360 degrees, is somewhere people from the western shore or Philadelphia or New Jersey or middle America come to vacation to spend a week,” Sahler continued.
“They come with a big, fat wallet full of vacation money, which is different from regular money. It’s money to be spent. There’s plenty of outlets if you want to make a business of selling art here.”
Berlin’s 2nd Friday festivities feature more than a dozen different art displays in shops throughout the downtown region, along with sales and specials in area restaurants from 5-8 p.m.
For more information on Erick Sahler Serigraphs, visit