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A History Lesson

18 Jul

Hello dear readers! Thanks for again coming along and reading about our adventure in paper-making. I hope you are enjoying the posts so far and learning as much as I am.

I am going to say a statement which might cause a bit of internet controversy. Prepare yourself.

History is cool. 

As I write this, I can already imagine that some of you have closed your browsers, while others of you audibly groaned. For those of you who are still reading, thank you.

But really, history is incredible. As we have been making paper over the past two weeks, the background and history of paper has often been on my mind. At the beginning of the project, Jillian sent me a great website that detailed every possible aspect of paper-making you can think of. As I was reading up on the history of paper, I was surprised to find that paper was first invented by the Chinese around 105 AD. I blanched at this statement at first; didn’t I learn in sixth grade that the Egyptians used papyrus way before 105 AD? Well, yes. It is here that a differentiation must be made. According to Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien in Paper and Printing (Volume 5),

“Scholars of both the East and West have sometimes taken it for granted that paper and papyrus were of the same nature; they have confused them as identical, and so have questioned the Chinese origin of papermaking. This confusion resulted partly from the derivation of the word paper, papier, or papel from papyrus and partly from ignorance of paper itself. Papyrus is made by lamination of natural plants, while paper is manufactured from fibres [sic] whose properties have been changed by maceration or disintegration” (38).

Fascinating! I love history.

That is a little snippet of what I have been learning recently about paper. Do some research on your own! Tell us what you find most fascinating about the history of paper.



Thoughts From Jillian

5 Jul
 Jillian has some great thoughts about paper and what motivates her about this project. Some of my favorite moments of the project so far have been the times when we are in the studio together talking about paper, me asking endless questions about her experience or why we do things a certain way. Jillian always has a thoughtful answer and her explanations inevitably answer another question I didn’t know I had. Hopefully, she will have more thoughts to share as the project continues.
It’s kind of Renee to refer to me as a paper-making extraordinare! I still feel like a novice sometimes, though I’ve been practicing this craft for the better part of 10 years. This is a drop in the bucket compared to some of the wonderful artists I’ve learned from and who’s work I have studied (Michelle Wilson, Rosemary Lane, Tatiana Ginsberg, Tim Barrett).
My first paper-making experiences were in the art classroom of my Chester County Pennsylvania high school, mostly aided by a humble kitchen blender, pulp composed of paper scraps and dryer lint. I had a fabulous art teacher who seemed willing to try almost anything! We’ve come a long way, but not too much has changed in the process. Some things like the more rare and luxurious fibers and brilliant pigments are a bit more sophisticated, but the feeling of pulling sheets is the same. It makes me feel like a kid, it has magic in it.
I respect and admire paper and paper makers because of what they allow other artists to do. I love paper, I love the feel and the surface. I love that it can be translucent and light, heavy and thick. I consider the work I make printing on handmade paper to be a collaboration with the paper-maker, a co-active process that the paper-maker in their vision and expertise begin, and I finish. I’m invested in the process of understanding paper more because it’s essential to the language of art that I know best: works on paper, printmaking, the art of the book.
For me, this project begins with seeking more knowledge of the how and the why. Why would we labor over a process that seems antiquated and out of touch? I know a bit of the how and why, but the more I learn, the clearer it becomes that this process is about the stories of those who came before- those who have that information and knowledge of a craft thousands of years old. Some of it can’t be articulated, and needs to be observed. What observations will be made today?

About the Project

2 Jul

Things You Should Know:

1. This is a blog about paper and how it is made.

2. Jillian (the boss, head of the Houghton art department, paper-making extraordinaire) and Renee (not the boss, recent Houghton graduate/studio research assistant, paper-making novice) are so glad you’re here. Thanks for stopping by!

3. We want to hear from you. Write us a comment and let us know what you find most interesting or what you want to know more about. Have you pulled paper before? Share your story with us! We would love to hear it. Have some advice? Want to share fibers with us? Please, let us hear your voice.

4. Our project is about making paper, utilizing the environment around us, and talking to people along the way.

Why Are We Making Paper? 

An excellent question.

Think about how vital paper is in your life. Even in a day and age where screens, keys, and backlights are prevalent, there is still a need for paper.

Chances are you printed something off today using a sheet of crisp white printer paper. Well, our paper is about the exact opposite of that. We are pulling paper from local fibers (hosta, cattails, iris, day lilies) as well as from old jeans, cotton t-shirts, cotton bed-sheets, and linen skirts/shirts.

In a society that consumes and discards, we are gathering and utilizing the faded and wilted fibers of Allegheny County.

There is a certain emotional quality in the project. As we gather materials, we are connecting with the people in our community, those we know and those we don’t, as well as revisiting old memories in the t-shirts and jeans we cut up.

What Will Happen to All This Paper?

Ultimately, Jillian will use some of the paper for a new installation piece she is creating. Another portion of the paper will be archived in the college’s art collection. Yet another portion will be given to the art department. Some of the paper will be treated so the photography students can develop photos on it. Painting and drawing students will use it in their studio classes. In Jillian’s words, “This project benefits everyone.” I couldn’t agree more.

Please, follow us as we endeavor to make 5,000 (or something like that) sheets of paper this summer. It will be an adventure, we promise.