Friday, February 03, 2023

What a year already

We had another fabulous papermaking and book art class at Oberlin College for their annual Winter Term. I love WT because it posits that this is a month where you get to focus on ONE project only. While January in Ohio is not amazing weather, it's a quieter campus because many students choose to do their projects at home or abroad or anywhere but school. When it snows, it's even more quiet. But for me, I get slammed into the most busy time immediately after the holidays. It's a great way to completely bypass any doldrums after that ridiculous season. Here are my students cleaning paper mulberry fiber that they had already scraped and cooked and rinsed previously.
You never really know how each group will gel and if the students you selected were the best match for this class so I was relieved to have such a great mix. They were so fully engaged, excited, and kind. I change the class every year to make it work better and this year they cleaned fiber and beat for longer, because I knew it would produce better paper.
Week one is always a focus on Asian style papermaking and fibers, and one student spent a ton of time really picking the milkweed fiber after cooking to get us a fantastic batch.
The paper was lovely and the chiri (waste) paper at the left was also nicer because this time I asked them to try and pick out more of the black bark. This is some of the nicest milkweed paper students have made, again, because we picked out a lot of the excess non-cellulosic material. And then two types of paper mulberry, one from Florida and one from Thailand.
As always, students unleash all kinds of creativity once I show them how to do transfers, embedding, and other techniques to personalize their paper.
This kind of work always takes forever but the results were fabulous!
We also had our regular visits to the Morgan and Zygote so that students can see professional communal art centers that support related techniques. Ed drove the van as always, and his library intern joined us along with Emerson, the new librarian at the Oberlin Conservatory library. This was an especially wonderful month for me because I could hang out with Emerson on campus for the first time since we started at Oberlin as students in 1995!
Biology professor Taylor Allen always lets us use the Critter beater in his research lab to pulp rag that students had cut, from Ed's old cotton shirt and work pants and jeans.
And then we were off to the races with European-style papermaking and pulp painting.
Ed also always generously does the paper marbling demo on the day we decorate papers, while I set up for paste papers and suminagashi.
After recovering from a scary corneal infection during the long holiday weekend (from the usual stress, insomnia, and winter dryness + overwork), I also squeezed in a visit to Nick Fairplay's stonecarving studio. This will eventually become a relief of important Greek people throughout history, to be installed at the Greek Cultural Garden in Cleveland.
I learned so much about this ancient practice, like how important it is to make models (the lion at left).
And, of course, the importance of tools and how hard it is to find good ones because they really aren't made the same way anymore. Nick told us about when he was an apprentice in the UK and the man who made and fixed all of their tools had gone to fight in WWI. When he arrived at the front and they found out he was a blacksmith, they sent him back to England to make bayonets. Two weeks later, his entire battalion was killed in combat. Kids, it is STILL a great idea to learn a trade!!
The last section of class uses the paper we've made to make books.
The feedback this year was that maybe it would make more sense to visit the special collections to see books before they made certain types of paper and books. It's hard for me to take them away from the paper studio at first because I really want to throw them into labor but it's not a bad idea. This is the art library, where I pull a bunch of artists' books for them to view.

We also see books and samples from special collections in the main library, but I like to make sure they go to both since the art building is kind of severed from the rest of campus. I want them to know about more of the amazing resources available to them.
Gena (at left) is a dream to work with, especially because I give her so many last-minute requests for books or supplies and she is really nice about all the things I forget until the students start working. Here, she and Haoyuan are picking dried fiber off of the Japanese sugeta in the main library special collections.
Haoyuan is from Beijing and we met last WT because I noticed my housemate at Shansi House putting up new year's banners. He had done the calligraphy, and I invited him to visit my class to see what else you can do with calligraphy ink. He visited a few more times and then I convinced him to declare a book studies minor (even though he was already a biology/neuroscience double major) and then he took the WT class this year. And made me a new set of spring couplets! Which I hung in my studio.
Last year, I had asked him to do ink tests on different papers, and this year he did it again, but now that he was actually taking the class he had access to all the different papers we made and decorated throughout. He very generously gave me the samples and then I made a little book to house them. Aside from my eye, it was a good month. I now have so many friends and allies in town that my social calendar overflows (not great for rest but it really warms the winter). More importantly, I was able to ask for help when I really needed it.

Now, back home, recovered, and beginning my teaching sabbatical! Of course I've already been tested by new invites to teach...agh. But I've made hanji in the studio this week will make more tomorrow.

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