Feb 192010

I never used to understand the appeal of making paper. Rip up a sheet of paper, put it in a blender and make… a sheet of paper! How exciting. I stuck to found and purchased papers and left the wet stuff to other folks.

Then one day a long while back I got curious. I made a primitive mould and deckle with some screen, tore up some old junk mail, shoved the pieces in a blender with some water…and made some surprisingly cool-looking papers. I was hooked.

I eventually got a pour-style mould and some dried sheets of different kinds of pulps from Carriage House Paper. I discovered the thrill of experimenting with various (and sometimes strange) inclusions and the joy of running one’s fingers through a vat of cool proto-paper slush.

On the other hand, it can be a tiring process. I went for a long time without doing it. Then recently my friend Michele wanted to start making paper. I loaned her some books, which was all well and good, but what she most wanted, please, was a demo of that pour mould. And so I pulled out the old papermaking paraphernalia.

We got some especially interesting results with a mix of blue jean and sisal pulps, which I’d been rehydrating since the day before. Michele is a hoot. She’s a former mathematician, and at one point in the process she expressed out loud her desire to have a math book to deface–this paper would sure be improved with some equations! Said I, gazing at my pile of university library discards, “Would physics do?”

The results are still drying under clamps and boards. I can’t wait.

Sep 242009

Several years ago I stumbled upon Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools and Techniques in the local university library. I wasn’t a papermaker, but wanted to know a bit more about the topic. The book turned out to be an enjoyable mélange of travel writing, ethnobotany, history and detailed fine craft how-to. Up to then I wasn’t all that familiar with the author, Timothy Barrett, but soon came to know that he’s a respected presence in the paper and book world, and is affiliated with the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

I was pleased to hear that Timothy Barrett was just named a recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship. One doesn’t usually expect to find the likes of papermakers included in such honors. In a recent press release Timothy says,

People have asked me how it feels to receive this award….More than the money, I have to say I’ve been moved by the recognition. I’ve spent most of my career focused on the history, technique, science and aesthetics of hand papermaking. I’ve been lucky to be a part of the UI Center for the Book for the last 23 years because, in general, career tracks in my specialty are few and far between. So it is very much to the MacArthur Foundation’s credit that they acknowledge creativity in new fields of study, as well as in established disciplines.