Last week I held my first hanji retreat in the new studio. It ran for a week and I had the most wonderful students, a perfect group at just the right time. I am still recovering, but in the best ways. I don't even want to recap because it acknowledges that it's over, yet the lessons remain. Here are Bobby and Justine rinsing fiber that I had cooked over two days before they arrived.
Since Justine and Christie hadn't scraped bark before, I set half a pound of Florida black bark aside for them to experience, which then we combined with the half pound of cleaned Iowa bark that Bobby very very kindly shared with us after he cleaned.
Most of the first two days were spent picking fiber, and Michelle was with us on the first and then fourth and fifth days to assist.
Justine used the beating station I like best because it is so sturdy and fits my height.
Charity helped on Days 2 & 3, and because she and Bobby and Christie were taller, we rose the table (this required a panicked drive to the store where one employee was extremely rude to me and another was nicer but had no idea what these risers were).
I usually try to start the vat early so as to appease students who only conceive of papermaking as pulling sheets AKA "the fun part" but this group was really patient and polite. By the time we started the vat it was Day 3, but the fiber was extremely well prepared, unlike in other classes where the push is to do sheet formation at the vat.
Because I've been on my own so long making do with tools, I forgot that I needed to get better vat agitators (aka longer sticks). My poor students were terrorized by the shortest dowel ever but still managed to get good dispersion for their first batch of hanji.
We parted the sheets in the beater room to board because I had the walls lined with Marlite, which means I don't need to prepare or carry around as many wood boards for drying. Of course the finished paper is a bit slick on that side but it's worth it; I always prefer a completely vertical surface for drying, even if we have to squat to get there.
I don't have as many pictures of Bobby doing fine work because my presence would cause him to mess up and I didn't want to be THAT hovering teacher. He already has an MFA in book arts so he knows his stuff and you can tell just from the way his fingers and hands work that he has all the skills. Such a pleasure to teach gifted students.
By the next day I got longer dowels, but not the bamboo rods I wanted to have for them (I think there is something about having a partly hollow tube that changes the experience. The timing for the garden center hours near me and when class began didn't fit right but at least I have them for the next time).
And we were able to work two at a time. I of course forgot until days after the class ended that now with my new ledge for the front of the vat, the frame can sit right onto it and lean onto the crossbar, not hang off the corner. Temporary habits that last for years die hard.
We also did small ssangbal tteugi sheets, without interfacing, and I was glad to be able to use all of the threads that Mr. Shin gave to me last year in Korea for both ssangbal tteugi and webal tteugi, two different sheet formation styles used in Korea.
It was great to see over the few days how each student calmed down into better technique. Christie had started with big motions but then figured out how to do more with less. The best part of this week was being able to just give each person time to figure things out on their own and not have other people hovering or wanting to elbow in for some vat time. We definitely could have had more vat time but even with what they did have they progressed a lot from Wed to Fri.
I didn't even tell them to pick out bits with tweezers but they knew where they were and how to use them. This was one of many, many wonderful aspects of this group. It may or may not be cultural, but these students grew up with deep senses of observation and consideration. They watched what I did, where I placed things, so I never had to say where to put things away or what to do. They had already seen it happen and simply went to do what had to get done, the way water fills spots in the sand on the beach. With less observant students, I am bombarded with, "how can I help? What can I do? What should I do now?" and this is always when I'm in the middle of working. OR, I would have to tell people, go do this or that, and in both cases there are students lolling about in the way not doing anything. Not this week, because someone had already done the dishes or washed a bucket or whatever needed to get done.
We used the small tools for ssangbal tteugi and they worked just fine, which was a relief because it doesn't always go well.
Couching, and doing it the hard way where you have to place one corner of the screen and eyeball where you think the side of it will fall. They did really well for their first time.
Rolling the "log," and I was glad to be able to teach them the right away after Mr. Shin showed me last year not to get all the way to the edge so that the screen doesn't get damaged and the post doesn't get crushed.
Oh, look, the pics got out of order. But this is the initial placing, and you can't fix it once the screen has started to come down.
Placing the thread
Parting and boarding sheets. I loved watching Bobby help Michelle because it is always useful to hear it from different people, and also it helped me not to have to repeat myself (she had learned to board from me over two years ago at Oberlin but with much smaller sheets). Again, these students made my life so much easier than it has ever been in a classroom setting.
All of them were so kind to and generous with each other, and because I knew they really only came to Ohio to do this retreat, I was able to relax into really being there for them. In the debrief, the whole thing crystallized, so that I could see how important and valuable it was for Korean Americans to have space with each other outside of organized religion to labor together doing something very tied to their heritage. This was very intentional but I wasn't sure how it would actually play out. It confirms that holding this space on a regular basis for KAs (and in other courses, for POC), which was only an idea for me up until now, is worth doing because when it happens in real life it's like nothing else that we have experienced. The racism that we are so accustomed to in other classroom settings disappears, we can use our own language and experiences as shorthand without explanation and code switching, and no one was bothering us with ignorant questions meant to center supposed knowledge, such as, "Are you from north or south Korea??"
Christie set up these shots but since I'm the only non-iPhone user, my version is low res. No matter, you get the picture! Last week entailed so much freedom, a whole different way of being able to teach, and offered me a way to stay home and be able to take care of my body every day. I came home physically tired but not emotionally depleted the way that a lot of teaching can destroy me. I could go on and on but that would demean the experience, which needs more time to settle in. I am so grateful to this group for bringing themselves fully, and for this experience that validates everything I've been working towards for 15 years. I feel like I'm becoming an even better sharpened tool, and that clarity is welcome right now.