Artist Visit: J. Smith

Joyce, Claudia, and I visited John Smith, who lives in a beautiful home between Smithville and Sparta. He does everything: paints, designs, makes his own tools, collects many things (from fine art to antique microscopes), builds model ships (that are incredible years-long endeavors where he plies his own thread to make miniature rope for the rigging). He was a trained artist, he worked for many years as industry executive because of his problem-solving ability, and he has incredible creativity. The astonishing thing about John aside from the number of different things he attempts, is that he does everything well. Getting a tour of his collections and interests is like seeing the hobbies of several people combined. However, the main reason for our visit was to see his book collection (comprised of many first editions and extremely rare books), and his own skillful rebinding of books.

John has collected rare books for decades, but became interested in protecting his books and rebinding those that had wear. He has learned a lot about what makes a book gain or lose value --sometimes rebinding is not the best option-- and books can be protected in many different ways. He knows what materials are appropriate for a project and how to do a new leather binding on a century-old book and preserve the original look by integrating well-chosen materials. Looking at his rebound books and clamshell boxes, both are very precise and well-crafted in addition to being archival.

[One of John's beautiful clamshell cases for a book. The navy blue portfolio on the top (that slides perfectly underneath the book), contains loose pages of prints. The navy book cloth on the portfolio matches the navy book cloth on the original book- an example of his attention to detail.]

[Some of John's rare books: Japanese block prints, 150+ years old; Aubrey Beardsley's first published illustrations from the late 19th century; Don Quixote combined 1st and 2nd ed. from 1675.]

John has artistic talent as well as a problem-solving scientific mind and real ingenuity. He made his own press for complex binding processes. It has movable pieces that create the indention on either side of the spine, and the entire press lifts off to become horizontally positioned so that it is easier to work on the spine. In seeing his book collection and how books are reconstructed, I learned so much from John about the structure of books: how marbled paper was attached, how leather is flattened to be folded around a cover-- all things I had never thought of when looking at a book.

[John's press that he built himself.]


Artist Visit: B. Plummer

It has turned out that meeting other paper and book artists has become a very valuable component of this apprenticeship. This past week, Claudia and I met with her long time friend and mentor, Beverly Plummer. Beverly is the coolest-- she met us after her yoga class (she's 92 and can out-yoga me, I'm sure), we had a great lunch at her apartment near Belmont College in Nashville, and I got to see some amazing papers and hear amazing stories.

Claudia has been telling me about how papermaking emerged in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s and how no one knew anything at the time. Somehow the field grew as people communicated and experimented, and fiber became a more legitimate fine art material. Beverly talking about her own research and exploration perfectly illustrated the history of papermaking that I've been learning. I got to hear first hand about how 40 or so people came together for the first official papermaking convention in Appleton, WI. This was the site of the Dard Hunter Collection and the site was probably chosen for that reason. (The collection had moved from M.I.T. and would eventually move to GA Tech where I was able to visit it.) The people from Carriage House and Twinrocker were there, people from all over the country- some learning about paper specifically for watercolor or other media and some wanting to explore paper for its own sake. And there was Beverly... at this meeting in Appleton- right at this pivotal moment in the history of papermaking. (What is so difficult for me to do is understand how this was accomplished in the pre-internet world. I'm still wondering-- how did people communicate.. how did information travel? I still can't wrap my mind around this after a week.)

Beverly is seriously the first person to write an article on creating paper from plants, in the U.S. That is an astonishing fact. It was in her book Earth Presents, 1974. In the book, she talks about not knowing exactly how to make paper, but she shares her experiments with recycling paper (kleenex tissues were readily available) and processing plant fibers. She read a lot from libraries that held books on Chinese and Japanese papermaking. At the time, a few libraries had sample books and some of those were in circulation- not special collections! The books with priceless samples could be taken home. These resources informed her exploration. She began making paper all over her house. She told me that she made paper for a year without concern for making a "thing" but to see what she could do. She was concerned with simply looking at a material and seeing what was possible.

Currently, Beverly works with Hatch Show Prints and is active in the Friends of Dard Hunter. She makes awesome block prints of animals. Beverly is also famous for her work with John Cage making edible paper. This is documented in the Story Corps recording with Susan Hulme and in her beautiful collection of tests of the edible papers. Her paper collection included so many different materials: okra, cabbage, onion skins, iris, pea pods, palm leaves, black beans, mushrooms, corn, cat tails, milkweed, roses, wasps nests...

It was such a great day and a wonderful opportunity meeting Beverly. She is inspiring to me not only as a papermaker, but as an innovator --and as a fellow artist and explorer of materials.

Beverly's edible paper tests and Cage's notes.


A.I.R. Exhibit

The Artist in Residence Exhibition was opened recently at the Appalachian Center for Craft where I am a Fibers resident. I was able to include some of my new books in the show.

Origami books with cases, pamphlets
Digtally printed handmade papers, book board, surgical thread, ribbon, claps, pva

Six different book forms
Digtally printed papers, vintage maps, book board, surgical thread, ribbon, claps, pva



I am always being shown new things at Liberty Paper Mill. Claudia has so many samples and she is always willing to decode the process it took to make them and take time to show me how it's done. Last week she showed me some paper that had been spun into yarn --a Japanese technique called Shifu-- and I was able to try it the other day.

I chose a tough green Japanese paper. Claudia showed me how to fold and cut the paper where the ends were still stuck together but the paper was essentially cut into 1/4" ribbons. Then the fabric is broken apart into a long strip which you can twist. She showed me how to spin it off the point of a bobbin winder. This way it becomes tighter. If done while the paper is a little damp, it becomes permanently twisted when it dries (like the tightly spun yarn on the right of the photo).

What I love about processes like this is how they can be another tool in the toolbox. I can never really tell what will be useful to me in my work, and some things pop up as the perfect solution. I have plenty of sheets of Japanese paper that didn't turn out (still practicing that process, more update on that later) and spinning them could be a great way to recycle the bad sheets.