Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Papermaking at Oberlin, at last!

I love firsts. As much as we have to constantly move furniture around, I am so delighted with the setup in the old gang shower/changing room at Hales Gymnasium (no longer used as such, but still in use by a many different groups and people. I'm fairly certain that this is the first time this space has been set up to make paper. I was a little worried on the first morning when hooking up the hoses, and thought for a good long time that the shower was very dirty but later realized that these pipes have not been used in YEARS and years. So the whole talk about, "Rinse the fiber until the water runs clear," doesn't work here. The water is very decidedly .... not clear. Our PMP is yellow orangey. But it all still works.
I never, ever get to do this for classes, so it was a good experiment: I brought two soaked pounds of Morgan kozo, harvested in November, for them to scrape. And scrape they did! Even with the poor ergonomics and terrible knives, I heard nothing but quiet as they worked at this.
The women went straight to scraping as the men went straight to beating (there's one station in the other room). These two showed me why the tables were totally wrong for a certain height. I am so bad at remembering these things: people are taller and shorter than me, and not everyone likes to stand and work.
Luckily, Betsy, who is in charge of the intramural athletics and recreation in the building, came by and noticed the issue. She left us table risers in the morning on Day 2, so we were able to rig one table for our taller students.

[Pre-rising.] The shower room ends up feeling like a steam sauna: there are windows that let in tons of sunlight, and there is a very strong heater right on the ceiling. It's hilarious to me that we're purposely doing this class in the winter but actually the conditions are like summertime. But we're not complaining, especially after severe lows that caused Oberlin to stay closed until noon today, pushing our class time later into the day. I felt so badly for the students who walk (which would be all but one). But they amaze me because they Don't Complain.
This is after Betsy came down and told me about chairs I could snag upstairs. I hadn't even THOUGHT about chairs. I am so used to being in spaces with chairs somewhere, and just figured everyone had to stand and work all day every day. But that's not true at all! And today, I had the students take all of the scraping platforms and use them more like bench hooks, so they were scraping on flat 2x4s. This platform is based on a Korean model, and Koreans sit on the floor with the platform. No Americans do that, so all we need are planks of wood.
Day 1 involved scraping, rinsing, and beating. They only made paper in the last two hours or so, but got right to work. This is when I realized I needed more tables and probably more vats. And pellons. And so on. Which is why I scheduled their Morgan field trip for the first week, so we can pick up the other things we need. I am so excited about them getting to see the space, as cold as it will be. I'll bring their scraped Morgan kozo + green/black bark so we can cook it there where the water is less orange, and then bring it back on Friday to have the satisfaction of processing local fiber that was scraped so arduously!
Day 1. I am always amazed by the caliber of Oberlin students. I know that this is something that faculty say all the time, about why they stay here, or live in a tiny town in the middle of cornfields, or any of it. But every time I return and get to interact with the students, I feel so proud of my alma mater. They are smart, polite, helpful, proactive, intense, and serious. I showed them how to clean things yesterday, and today, they would just start cleaning without even being prompted. This probably says more about the kinds of students I usually teach than anything else, but after only two days with 8 current students and 1 alumnus, I am already terribly fond of them.
The windows are all covered with paper, the restraint dryer is full, three clothelines are full of pellons and drying paper, and the whole place is clean. It's such luxury to have this extended time to do all of these steps (though admittedly, the beating is hard to tolerate in these acoustics). Two more days of straight eastern + a field trip, and next week we go to western formation. I like it this way, instead of the usual west to east curriculum. The two of us with cars shuttled the rest home tonight, and I was shocked when one student told me that it would be 65 degrees by Sunday or Monday. As long as we get out of the Risk To One's Life To Be Outdoors For More Than Five Minutes temperatures, I'm happy. I've never been so excited for it to be 4 degrees.

Oh! The info for my March 1 gig in NYC is live now: Experience Korea at the American Museum of Natural History.

1 comment:

Velma Bolyard said...

i am SO glad this class is how you are starting 2014.