Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Paper Points North: A Look at the 2015 Banff Conference

Missed the 2015 Friends of Dard Hunter Annual Meeting, or looking to relive the conference? Keep scrolling for an overview of the Paper Points North conference that took place at the Banff Centre in October. If you're on Instagram, find photos from conference attendees at #ppnbanff

David Carruthers Keynote Address

David Carruthers, founder and proprietor of La Papeterie Saint-Armand in Montreal, spoke from his own experience about the value of the handmade and the importance of being creative (and occasionally lucky) in business. David explained that he came from a family involved in the paper industry--his grandfather George had written a history of papermaking in Canada in 1905 while his father had been a paper salesman. He left his job to open Saint-Armand in 1979 and was making paper three months later, and three months after that he was trying to sell it in New York City. He found big stores in New York buying his handmade sheets, but no one in Toronto or Vancouver did--they expected a certain type of paper and were not "open" to what his mill produced. He didn't find that openness anywhere in Canada until he visited Calgary. David admitted that his paper back then was "awful"--"I cringe at what I did back then--it was so soft and ignoble." However he sold paper to some people who wanted paper that “looked a little different.” This was a recurring theme: learning from buyers and the market, as well as from crafts-people, machinists, scientists, and anyone or anything providing insight.

David described a sheet of Canadian paper from 1936, used to print his father's diploma, watermarked as Superfine Linen Record and made by Roland Paper of Quebec. He then described a 1962 sheet, printed on paper of the same name, but completely lacking the “heft or snap” of the 1936 sheet--"it wasn't even a shadow" of the 1936 paper. David said that he kept the two sheets as a reminder that "things slip if you let them slip."

A sheet from a 1490 Nuremberg Chronicle wasn't particularly special, but it still felt “peculiar--it was clear and white as supple as anything made today, but it had its flaws.” People today aren't used to seeing flaws. The modern machine-made sheet is white and perfect but also very sterile, so there's a disconnect between the sheet and the guy in the computerized cabin running a large modern paper machine.

Handmade paper must be good quality paper in order to be salable. The problem in handmade paper isn't the price but its variable quality. Like all mills producing paper for sale, Saint-Armand has had to make its “processes consistent to make a consistent product.” (David also said that he asked his workers to produce 150 sheets per day, but also to cull sheets while drying.)

Saint-Armand today had one big 1000lb Hollander machine beater and four smaller beaters from Sthrathmore for handmade paper.   David said that he was lucky to acquire his four beaters in the 1970s when Strathmore sold them and similarly to acquire a mill’s equipment just as they were preparing to scrap their pre-war equipment. When he set up the equipment, he found that no one in Canada had run such equipment in living memory.

Chance could play a part in new offerings. How did he come to offer “Denim” paper?  His partner at the time was a rag dealer with lots of denim. Crane was buying most of this partner’s good white rags. David took denim because it was uniform strength and would take dye, but he was trying to avoid bleaching so he bought Stanfield white underwear rags which were making terrible paper. But one day a blue denim crust which had accumulated above the beater dropped into a vat filled with a lot of white Stanfield rags and the end result was lovely--he called it "denim.” David said that he now frequently dries pulp before using it to make paper; he finds
that it makes a paper that shrinks less and has less torque. He remarked that you almost need to “denature” rag pulp to make it work. He called the process hornification (after James Horne).

He largely makes white paper and has to keep everything spotless, but twice a year he runs color pulp--first black, then blue, green, red and flax (flax jute and straw mixed with cotton), with each color getting lighter and with extensive clean-up after each run. He has seven people working at his mill, and he said that about 25% of his paper is unusable, having lumps or non-matching edges.

David took a number of digressions to talk about making different paper for different uses, and sometimes you had create or find those uses. He had never made paper for calligraphers, but he took a class in calligraphy to understand better the qualities of paper needed for writing with a nib. Sometimes creative thinking of final use worked. He mentioned a flax paper he'd made, "a disaster to look at," but the paper found a market as a high-end chocolate wrapper. In the Q & A period he mentioned a manufacturer having made too much red tissue paper for gunpowder filled "caps" (a children's firecracker for toy-guns), but finding a use for the excess tissue to be sold to hunters as a sanitary tissue that wasn't white. Among other nice quotes, "Life," he said, "comes in hard-copy."
  • Paul Romaine
Unbound: The Power of Paper by Short Twig Press, displayed at the 2014 FDH Annual Meeting, Paper on the Press.

Education: Session 1

The first session of the conference focused papermaking and education, highlighting a paper museum, a university in rural Virginia, and creative placemaking in urban Philadelphia.

Virginia Howell of the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking outlined their approach to inquiry-based education. Virginia explained how they arrive at lesson plans and curriculum that engage students and the public, and how to create a strong program through the 'five E's.' And a pro-tip she shared with Friends of Dard Hunter conference-goers? Leave the handouts for the end of your lesson!

Kerri Cushman of Longwood University, talked about her experiences in how she creatively shares a new, fully-equipped papermaking facility with the community in rural Virginia. Audience members were moved by the story behind Unbound: The Power of Paper, a fine press publication that shared personal stories from members of the community, creating meaning links between the newly built studios and the citizens of Farmville, Virginia.

Nicole Donnelly and Mary Tasillo gave a lively overview of alternative ways papermaking engages the community in Philadelphia, since the city lacks a community book and paper arts center. Topics explored included zines, and how they are today's version of pamphlets, and paper projects that lived in the public sphere. They also shared information about the People's Paper Co-op, Paper Think Tank, and The Soap Box.

  • May Babcock

Art Explorations & Experimentation: Session 2

Helen O’Connor began this engaging panel by evoking her lyrical art residency at Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland, in 2014. At the Centre, she shared meals, walks, work, and ideas with celebrated Irish poets (check out some of their work in Poetry Magazine ). Helen described how their creative worlds merged: the poets helped her collect stinging nettle for papermaking; paper began to enter their poems as subject, not just substrate; and Helen found herself immersed in the ebb and flow of words. She read poems to us during her presentation; the room was beautifully transformed by image and sound.

Caitlin Chaisson continued the interdisciplinary theme by talking about her artwork. She combines embroidery, performance, printmaking, etc., under the umbrella of drawing. She spoke compellingly of drawing as an act of “resistance” that slows down both maker and viewer to deepen attention. She noted that drawing’s labor intensive quality causes a “rupture” in our idea of “productive time,” undermining the speed and inattention of quick-fix culture. Caitlin likened drawing’s “slow labor” to papermaking. She recalled David Carruther’s keynote comment that “life has a hard copy.” Paper, she said, “gives form” to our experience.

Lyndon Barrois spoke about the “sensibility of the blur.” He’s interested in art-making in which “boundaries dissolve.” He, too, uses drawing as his reference point and places emphasis on paper as both material and substrate. He constructs objects out of paper and plays with flatness and the illusion of depth to “confront the frame” and create “nestled contexts.” I was fascinated by the interdisciplinary approach of all three artists. I believe such a diversity of voices enriches the papermaking community. As we cross boundaries, we explore new potentials for this ancient craft and uncover things we didn’t know we knew about our materials and ourselves. It’s papermaking in the expanded field!

  • Rebecca Childers

Community and Place: Session 3

Radha Padney led this session with an presentation on Auroville Papers in India. What is unique about this hand papermaking mill is the sustainable model it sets--they are 100% renewable, and 95% carbon-free. They not only recycled their pulps and papers, but also the excess water and sludge through an extensive reclamation system. The audience was excited to hear about Auroville Papers' success story!

Jennifer J. Woodward & Gary Hanson of Pulp & Deckle, a community papermaking studio in Portland Oregon, continued the theme of sustainability. In 2013, the Pulp & Deckle artist residency program offered four artists access to the studio to creative new work, focusing on experimentation and sustainability. The residencies ended in a group show of the work created in the studio.

Dallas Price, a student at Longwood University, gave a moving presentation about her project inspired by immigration stories. Kozo casts of bottles, containing stories laser etched on slips of paper, are Dallas's way of recording personal narratives from immigrants to the United States.

  • May Babcock

WANDERLUST Member’s Exhibition

The 2015 member exhibition Wanderlust at the Willock and Sax Gallery exemplified the variety and complexity of paper-centered creative production. This ranged from the more analog methods of the collaged, molded, dyed, sewn, painted, printed, stained and rotted, to the inclusion of technology, by which Marie McInerney’s work is laser etched to expose found book pages that are sandwiched between layers of pulp fiber.  In Laura Merrick Roe’s entry, a glowing green contour of an encaustic cactus hovers in neutral speckled space, while Susan Kristoferson presents an assemblage of papers that join to depict a hilly and rocky landscape, each fragment bearing the mark of a larger context. Helmut Becker’s swatches of hemp highlight the stillness and suspended animation of paper, as coarse fibers and sediment are in full view in a sea of finer pulp, having settled into place as the page became fixed. And Jennifer Baker presents a kind of living paper, that now continues to evolve with the inclusion of other organic material, using the instability as an advantageous element of change.

In light of Paper Points North’s running theme of exploration, one can appreciate this exhibition as a kind survey of possibilities, proving that the paper substance is a context in itself, in which many ideas are activated, far more than a support that fades away beneath the gestures of a new user.  

  • Lyndon Barrois Jr.

The Significance of the Silkworm with Donna Koretsky: Session 5, Materials Part 1

The presentation given by Donna Koretsky beautifully wove together bits of history, technology, folklore, and contemporary art practices as they all connected to the significance of the silkworm, and its relationship to the invention of paper. Many facts about silk, sericulture (silk farming), and the silk worm were shared. A silkworm is not a worm, but the larvae of a silk producing moth, that feeds on white mulberry trees. Unbroken cocoons spun by the larvae are used to make silk thread. Donna shared that the Chinese attribute the discovery of unreeling and using the silk of the cocoon to a woman. It was said that while having tea under a mulberry tree a silkworm wrapped in its cocoon fell into a woman’s tea and began to unravel. Thus the invention of sericulture emerged.

Silk was invented 3000 years before paper and kept secret in China for just as long. Although no physical evidence of silk paper exists, Donna shared with us, that the silkworms’ fibrous silk cocoons and sericulture probably inspired the idea of papermaking. The connection between silk and paper is also evident in the Chinese  language, wherein the first character of both words is the same.

Donna then went onto share with us her fascinating explorations of using the silkworms to make paper and silk drawings on black handmade paper. Conference attendees were even fortunate enough to see live silkworms in action making paper for the keepsake exchange in Banff. It was exquisite! Donna also shared where you can order silkworms and the mulberry mush to feed them, in case you wanted to experiment at home.

The presentation concluded with a segment sharing research by the MIT Media Lab using silkworms in fabrication and design of structures. The project called Silk Pavilion combined digital and biological fabrication and design techniques to create a very unique silk pavilion. This captivating presentation showed us that silkworms can and do make paper and that they deserve to receive credit for their role in the invention of paper in China.

  • Megan Singleton

Helmut Becker’s Flax Demonstration: Session 5, Material Part 2

Helmut Becker should be designated a Living National Treasure of Canada! He is certainly a treasure to the Friends of Dard Hunter community, preserving as he does a deep knowledge of growing and processing flax fiber for papermaking. He presented a lively, informative demonstration of all aspects of the process, beginning with a screening of The Wee Blue Blossom, a beautiful black and white promotional film made by the Irish Linen Guild in 1933. I was mesmerized by footage capturing the almost creaturely movement of rows of wooden stampers at a beetling mill as they pounded flat dampened linen. The stampers’ graceful movements reminded me of Dutch artist Theo Jansen’s beach “creatures,” kinetic sculptures that seem to spring to life in wind. The highlight of Helmut’s presentation came when he invited us to gather around him as he showed us how to “break” retted flax using an old flax break. Pieces of flax straw snapped away from the fiber filaments and flew into the air like tiny flaxen fireworks, causing a ripple of enthusiasm to pass through the audience. Next Helmut demonstrated how to use a scutching knife and board to remove remnants of the broken woody stem, and finally how to use a heckle to comb the fiber into strands “as fine as baby’s hair.” As if his elucidating presentation wasn’t enough, Helmut also provided FDH members with a copy of his Flax Glossary of Terms (2012), a valuable illustrated guide to his life-long research about this “most useful” fiber, Linum usitatissimum.

  • Rebecca Childers

Honoring Elaine Koretsky and Douglass Howell: Session 7, History

The conference ended in a thought-provoking place: at the beginning of contemporary papermaking. The final session honored pioneers Elaine Koretsky and Douglass Howell, who were both influenced by Dard Hunter’s books. Donna Koretsky showed a film of her mother retracing Hunter’s footsteps through Asia to visit papermaking sites. The film pays tribute to Hunter and captures time’s impact on traditional papermaking. One scene shows Elaine trying (“ineptly,” she says) some tricky sheet-forming in a Thai canal as two papermakers laugh on the banks. The two amused papermakers are daughters of the man who made paper for the Thai royal family in 1936 when Hunter visited and photographed the family. In Hunter’s photo, they were just girls; by the time Koretsky met them in 1986, they had decided to quit and sell their moulds to the royal family’s museum. This reveals the precariousness of tradition, but it also makes me appreciate the strength of the communities that have sprung from Hunter’s preservation of traditional knowledge.

Sue Gosin, who founded Dieu DonnĂ© in 1974, traced the lineage of this knowledge from Hunter to Douglas Howell to the next generation of papermakers, including Helmut Becker and Walter Hamady (Gosin’s mentor). She focused on Howell (1906-94), credited with “reinventing papermaking as an art medium.” Howell dubbed papermaking a “liquid medium of expression,” establishing a new aesthetic vocabulary for working with pulp in both 2D and 3D. Gosin’s slides illustrating the explosion of innovative papermaking since Howell were inspiring—we didn’t want her to stop!

  • Rebecca Childers

Islamic Papermaking Demonstration with Radha Pandey

One of the highlights of the conference was a demonstration, video, and discussion with Radha Pandey about her research on Islamic style papermaking. A specialized slanted vat and two dips of the mould are just a few specialized techniques that Radha shared. Attendees were especially intrigued by a video demonstrating the burnishing of a sheet for calligraphy with an agate stone.
  • May Babcock

Banff Centre Library Tours & Four Locations and a Line of Text (Curated by Susan Sax-Willock)

A special treat for conference attendees was a tour of the Paul D. Fleck Library, which houses the largest collection of artist books in Canada. Attendees truly enjoyed this hands-on experience that surely inspired! Another opportunity for between sessions was an exhibition curated by Susan Sax-Willock, Four Locations and a Line of Text. This exhibition of artists' books was created exclusively for the Friends of Dard Hunter conference, with works located around the Banff Centre.

Keepsake Exchange

This year's keepsake exchange was another conference activity that we all enjoyed! The group of volunteers collated and stuffed the keepsake envelopes, and the handmade paper contributions were each a treat to see.
  • May Babcock

Yoga for Papermakers

Nicole Donnelly led arguable the most relaxing segment of the Banff conference, a yoga for papermakers class. These stretches and movements set against the background of the Canadian Rocky Mountains was truly an experience. The consensus was that Yoga for Papermakers should be a session at every Friends of Dard Hunter annual meeting!

  • May Babcock

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