From paint to print

After decades as road manager for Crosby, Stills and Nash, R. Mac Holbert has set up shop in Ashland as The Image Collective, creating true-color prints of the world's great art and shipping hundreds daily to museums and their customers for framing.

Holbert and rocker Graham Nash, an avid photographer and print collector, partnered as Nash Editions from 1991 to 2009 in Los Angeles, pioneering the earliest computer-digital technology to make prints for artists and photographers — and Holbert moved to Ashland three years ago to set up his own print business on Mistletoe Road.

"I've been in the digital print world since 1989 and as a photographer and artist, I was always surprised at the low quality of prints offered by major institutions. It was either a cheap four-color poster or ink jet prints crafted by someone who cared little for the color accuracy of the reproduction," noted Holbert.

"When I moved to Ashland, I realized that I wasn't ready to retire and decided to use my skills to create prints that celebrate the intention of the artist."

The Image Collective, or TIC, has two partners in Ashland, working on PhotoShop and a bank of large-format Epson printers — and one in Boston, specializing in "high-end digital capture for the cultural heritage world," said Holbert.

Museums used to be very protective about who copies their original art but, in the new digital world, are eager to do "digital acquisition," in which every detail is faithful to what's on the canvas, said Holbert — and gives the institutions sales opportunities in a time of declining government and foundation support.

"Museums want to get it done, promote art and freeze it in time, now that color control is much more accurate," he said.

In a down economy, museums have held back on digitizing, but Holbert and his partners are pitching their services by explaining that museums can digitize their most important 20 works, then use the revenues from poster or framed art sales to digitize the rest.

Having just opened shop last year, TIC's clients include, in the United States, the Getty Museum, the Boston Public Library and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Collection, and in England, the Royal Photographic Society, the National Railway Museum, the National Media Museum, the National Science Museum, the Bridgeman Collection and others.

Holbert pitches his work using a convincing display of Vincent Van Gogh's "Flowers," with his true-color print in the middle surrounded by four other prints on the market, all widely varying in color and even with some elements altered.

"Our Ashland facility is where we fulfill orders from our museum affiliates," said Holbert. "Customers place print orders on the museum's websites and they're forwarded to us for mailing out in mailing tubes — or we can frame them, using Houston's Framery here in Ashland. We try to keep as much business as we can local."

TIC partners with Ashland's Alan and Priscilla Oppenheimer Foundation, makers of the Art Authority app, which accesses more than 50,000 works of art. The app now has a button for users to order a print directly from TIC.

Holbert connected with Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1970, when their production manager picked him up hitchhiking to California and offered him "roadie" work at the Big Sur Folk Festival. His "big break" came soon after, as tour manager, handling freight and hotels for an anti-war performance with Jane Fonda. In the 1970s, he was road manager for CSN, Poco, America, Carole King and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Holbert later began managing Nash's photos in exhibits all over the world, then learned from friends at Disney Studios about early printmaking with computers.

"At one point Graham lost all his negatives in shipping — 20 years containing a huge amount of the history of rock 'n' roll — but he had contact sheets (with each photograph about the size of a postage stamp). We digitally resurrected the collection from those and it showed us the possibilities."

Nash and Holbert in 2006 published a book, "Nash Editions," which not only showcased Nash's work and collection but, with text by Holbert, explained the technology behind digitally saving and reproducing images.

Some of the greats in American painting and photography are in the book — and have been saved to TIC hard drives, including David Hockney and Horace Bristol, who shot a historic collection of Dust Bowl farm migrants in Depression-era California that was the inspiration for John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath."

Holbert said that on seeing digitization of his work, a tear ran down Bristol's face. Holbert thought the man was moved by the migrants' plight but Holbert said, "No, he was just sad because, he said, 'We never had this equipment to work with.' "

Not everyone is a fan of his work.

"I was spit on by an old-school photographer at the 1992 PhotoLA show," Holbert said, "a guy who angrily said I was destroying photography.

"But, hey, Ansel Adams would have been all over this ... . it's faster, cheaper and better. I don't miss a damn thing about film photography."

For more information or to see examples of TIC's work, go to

John Darling is freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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