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.