Friday, January 17, 2020

The best way to begin

I took last January off to get to know my house in winter and have my own down time for the first time in five years. Being back now to teach this month-long intensive feels more intense than ever! I for sure have not mellowed in my desire to share everything I can with my students. This is one tiny segment of all the dyed and inked papers they made last Friday on a field trip to Cleveland. Only their lunchtime hunger was able to tear them away from this work.
This week, we began western papermaking and for the first time ever, I could ask them to process rag so that I could beat it for them—on campus! There were two batches: one of white blotter offcuts (almost 2 pounds) that I trimmed from large sheets for the drybox, and one of fabric scraps. There was a threadbare yellow linen tablecloth a friend gave me years ago, parts of the legs of a pair of linen pants that a different friend gave to me even more years ago, and a pair of jeans that Ed gave to the studio at the start of this month (the librarian miracle worker here who makes this class possible and works WAY above and beyond his job).
A biology professor who had taken my intensive years ago let me use his Critter to process all of that fiber after class in the science building. I have seen but never used one of these beaters (I even went all the way to New Zealand to meet Mark, who makes them!). After getting over the learning curve, I got this rag to a certain point and then was so exhausted I had to call it a night. Thank goodness Taylor let me leave the batch in the beater until the next day. He even circulated it for a while before I arrived, and helped me empty the pulp to carry back to class.
Every morning, they unload the drybox and sort their papers. They are really good about socialist papermaking so what you see are the sheets they made to share. The sheets they made for themselves are all tucked away in labeled folders that are now bulging. I laughed on the first or second day of papermaking last week when one student asked if we were making "communism paper."
This week we have also shared the classroom with the class working with sound and health in the Technology in Music and the Related Arts department of the Conservatory. Abby teaches the class that is focusing on ways that these students can engage sound and breath when thinking about people with COPD. It will lead into a semester-long inquiry where they actually go to hospitals. Here, they have learned to pull sheets so that they can embed various wires and components of devices that they can later hook up to battery power to activate.
You can see how excited we get when pulling and couching the first sheet of a batch, especially when it's paper made from clothes and rags that we cut up the day before.
This is also the week we got into pulp painting, and I was relieved that all of the stencils I bought / ordered / repurposed / made worked. Some students made their own while others did very fun things with what was in the bin.
I patted myself on the back for ordering eyedroppers years ago for myself and then remembering to pack them this year to share with students.
Tuesday night, I invited the Shansi staff and new fellows to come make a sheet of Asian style paper and then play with the Korean joomchi technique that uses colored hanji. They had a great time and are really well bonded as a group already—in June-ish they will fly off to distant parts of the world to teach English and work on other projects.
This is the load of embedded paper that the TIMARA students made, and we'll hopefully see today what they do as my class will finally visit their maker space. I'll teach everyone how to make paper thread and cord and do a little joomchi.
We do very little sculptural paper but they were more than happy to sit for a moment and play with wire to make armatures. This was instructive for me (as is every single day) to realize that almost none of them knew how to work with wire. Also, I needed to have more sets of needlenose pliers to go around.
They used lightly pressed abaca to wrap these armatures and let them dry.
Yesterday we did lots of paper decoration. The morning was all paste papers and I loved watching them come up with all kinds of ideas. They have no sense of how each thing they learn and do is leading up to another thing, so they get very attached to the one object in front of them, which is a masterpiece unto itself. Wait until I make them cut them up to make book covers (in all fairness, I explained this part, but words are fairly useless—next week will be the awakening).
This student did a great job repurposing a tool. He made this pattern and made me so happy—a different group of students saw that stamp and never touched it. Herb and I have been talking about things like curiosity and how it brings meaning to work, not only for the maker but for the people who experience the work. It's clear when people are inquisitive and excited about exploring, and it keeps me invested as a teacher.
This may not seem like a big deal to anyone, but for years I had been plagued by these long hoses (granted, I bought them, but at the time I did not know that you could buy much shorter hoses). They would sit coiled on the floor and it was a damn miracle that none of my students ever tripped and fell. This week, I got so frustrated that I looked up reviews for shorter hoses. When I mentioned it to Ed, he said, Why don't you just coil them onto the shower fixtures? I couldn't believe what a ding dong I had been about this. I was extremely excited to coil them and then realized why I had never thought of it: this was always a temporary space where we hooked up hoses early in January and then took them down two weeks later to store in another building. Everything changes when you are given a space to occupy legitimately, a real home.
I don't have any good marbling shots but here is the hot and humid shower room where my students and the TIMARA students were watching Ed's marbling demo. Always a huge hit!
I thought suminagashi would be the best technique to share with the TIMARA group as it involves breath. You can see in the foreground that we are experimenting with conductive ink to see first if it will marble (diluted, it will) and later they'll see if it actually conducts.
Last night, I stayed for an extra few hours to host an open house so that other people on campus not taking the class could visit and make paper. One of my students came back with a friend to show off their folder of goodies. I always love listening to students rehash their experience, which usually relieves me because they mostly have learned what I taught. The best part is how excited they are to share it with others.
What could make a physics major who can't normally get into art classes during the semester but is creatively inclined happier than making paper? This is a small recap of a week, and yes, I am completely exhausted. Time to get dressed for a final wet day in the studio! Next week: books.

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