Author: Laurence Barker

El Retorno – Laurence Barker

Laurence Barker couching a sheet of paper with students in the Printmaking Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1963. AA3030-21. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

In the broadest of brush strokes: after approximately 35 years of living in Barcelona, Spain, I returned to the United States in February 2007 where I since divide my time between Odessa, Texas where my daughter Mercedes lives, and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where someone else lives. (Not to go all treacly, but more fulsomely expressed, “…where Someone Else lives.”)

I appear to have come full circle for I now live directly in front of the en- trance to Cranbrook Academy of Art on Woodward Avenue. In the late 1920s George Booth, a Detroit newspaper baron and philanthropist, commissioned the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to design a community of educational institutions which he accomplished with the help of artists, craftsmen, and student apprentices. This marked the informal beginning of the Academy which was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Saarinen as its first president. My tenure there in the Printmaking Department coincided exactly with the decade of the sixties, at the end of which, in 1970, I left for Spain.

My re-introduction to the Academy a few years ago—that is, to the quality and even greater adventurousness of student art in these times—occurred while thumbing through the school catalog backwards. It was highly instruc- tive. The normal left-to-right sequence of the department overview followed by examples of student work was reversed. I was often hard pressed to guess from which department the art proceeded. For instance, there were paintings from the Architecture Department (surprise!), cloth sculpture from Metal- smithing, and many examples of mixed-media constructions throughout the departments. With traditional craft boundaries crumbling, if not already quite demolished, the interdisciplinary imprimatur was unmistakable.

It has been slowly dawning on me that, apart from sporadic lecturing, I have been completely out of the university loop for ages. Out and away, I mean. When I departed for Spain I became de-institutionalized; I essentially left all academic concerns behind me. And although Barcelona resembles the Catskill Mountains not in the least, like Rip Van Winkle who slept for twenty years, I too have been unaware—out of it, in the vernacular—of the many changes that have taken place in art schools, and for many more years than twenty.

Laurence Barker, Nudo Azul, 2000, 191?2 x 27 inches, pulp painting. Photo by and courtesy of the artist.
Laurence Barker, Nudo Azul, 2000, 191?2 x 27 inches, pulp painting. Photo by and courtesy of the artist.


Laurence Barker, They Swing Down the Highway, 2009, 22 x 30 inches, perforated acrylic painting on mould-made paper. Photo by and courtesy of the artist.

My one and only visit to the Printmaking Department at Cranbrook since leaving in 1970 occurred ten years later in 1980 when I participated in a printmaking symposium. The studios on that occasion were buzzing with activity all across the board: etching, lithography, silkscreen, and relief printing. Twenty-odd years later all the printing presses—or so I have been told—were unceremo- niously stored in a corner of the department’s basement. Like so much superfluous luggage from the era of steamship travel tagged for the ship’s hold, they were “Not Wanted on Voyage.”

How to account for this peculiar abandonment? Beyond the strong suspicion of Deep Thought run amok, I would not care to speculate. If not essentially ink on paper—bedrock basic, one might rashly suppose—what else can printmaking be about? Evi- dently it was about something altogether different, in which case surely then the activity in question deserved another and more ap- propriate name. Whatever the explanation, to the rescue came Ran- dy Bolton, Artist-in-Residence (in oldspeak, Department Head), who restored much-needed order and balance and runs a wonder- ful department. In the early months of my return he kindly gave me a tour of the Print Media Department.

The Print Media Department? When did that happen? What be- came of Printmaking? Well I might rub my eyes. But, of course, the modern world happened: the computer, digital photography, and video happened; flatbed scanners—now a fixture in every depart- ment’s tool kit—happened. It is as easy to imagine a world without masking tape as it is to contemplate doing without today’s techno- logical advancements.

Thus university art departments and art schools have incorpo- rated new technology into their respective programs. Printmaking is no exception: etching, relief printing, and stone lithography have had to make room for computer-generated imagery and its repro- duction. Not elimination of the old, but, rather, accommodation of the new is the sensible rationale. Print Media—aptly named as it turns out—bespeaks this enlarged, more inclusive vision.

As we progressed through the studios on the tour, I came upon a student—be still, my foolish heart—making a piece of pulp art not ten feet from where we made paper in the sixties. It was a confounding moment; it was also, however convoluted, a Planet- of-the-Apes moment. Unlike Charlton Heston, who had to wait until the last reel to discover where his spaceship had landed, I always knew what “planet” I was on—one, alas, long since barren of papermaking—and yet, contrary to all expectations, here was a bloom! Call it ad hoc papermaking: a bucket of water, cotton lint- ers, and a hydropulper. Here today, gone tomorrow.

In this year’s student exhibition there was another example of under-the-radar papermaking. Kimberly Counes, a student in the 2D Design Department, presented a mixed-media piece com- prised of cast paper, video, and animation—a rather unusual and intriguing combination of elements. Counes told me she burned up half a dozen kitchen blenders macerating pages of the New York Times and other prominent national newspapers to form fifteen (very gray) castings measuring 18 inches square with a raised cen- ter. Mounted in three horizontal rows of five pieces each, a cluster of projectors from the ceiling directed video and animation to the areas of high relief in the center of each paper casting.

The principle lesson I deduce from these two examples is sim- ply this: if an artist wants expressive paper she has to make it her- self, and—with or without benefit of a formal program—she will. The paper may have a rough and primitive feel to it perhaps, but it is this very quality that is often sought to provide desired contrast. In Counes’ work, for example, the cast paper is the counter note to the immateriality of the light and shadows of the video. Low and high technologies joined at the hip; in this way old and new can form odd and arresting juxtapositions. Similarly, some of us in the sixties were printing photolithographs on shaped handmade paper which gave a distinctly different and unexpected look that slowed down the viewing.

Randy Bolton, Artist-in-Residence of the Print Media Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Photo: Laurence Barker. Courtesy of Randy Bolton.


Kimberly Counes, Mirador, 2010, 58 x 98 x 5 inches, hand-cast pulp board derived from major news publications (such as New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune), with 1:30 projection loop, installed in April 2010 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Courtesy of the artist.

Although paper will forever be intimately linked with books and prints—it being nothing less than the prime vehicle of the last two thousand years of human knowledge and culture—from a fine arts perspective, it has since outgrown that exclusive domain and, in addition, has become a stand-alone art medium in its own right. After my seminar with Douglass Howell in the summer of 1962, my interest and purpose, logically enough, was to provide paper for Cranbrook’s Printmaking Department. But in the fol- lowing years the whole development of paper art—art that is ini- tially designed at the vat level—became the work of many artists from a variety of disciplines.

In a 1988 Hand Papermaking interview with John Gerard, I said that you would have needed a crystal ball to see how reason- able it would have been to make hand papermaking a service area available to everyone from the very beginning. Although possi- bly a head-scratching, polemical idea at the time, I think it makes even more sense today. I would almost equate such a program with the comparable utility of an all-purpose woodshop.

The wide appeal of paper, whether as substrate or independent medium, justifies, in my opinion, this service area concept—a kind of Peaceable Kingdom where students with diverging inter- ests find common purpose in the making of pulp. There will be those who will want to make sheets of paper in an appropriately equipped facility and others who will want to drag it off to their studios for who-knows-what imaginative ends.

Detail of Mirador by Kimberly Counes, showing cast-paper element with video projection. Photo: Jordan Long. Courtesy of the artist.

The spirit, if not always the letter, of the admittedly thin gruel of a syllabus I followed in the sixties might be summed up sche- matically as follows: teach students papermaking on Day One and turn them loose on Day Two. Not nearly so heartless as it might appear, this bracing formulation underscores the rapid indepen- dence gained from but a brief orientation. We would beat rag to pulp in the morning and form and press sheets of paper in the af- ternoon. At the end of the day we had essentially gone through the whole papermaking cycle in lockstep. After the students learned.

the basic management of the Hollander beater, greater understand- ing and refinement of technique would come with subsequent practice and exposure to a variety of fibers and textiles.

Similarly a common papermaking studio would offer like instruction and supervision to all interested students. Not to mini- mize the practical difficulties, but the implementation of such a papermaking program would broadly enrich the curriculum of any art school or university, from sea to shining sea.

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Laurence Barker making paper

Biographical Summary

I was Head of the Printmaking Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1960 to 1970. Since then I have lived and worked mostly in Barcelona while occasionally lecturing in the United States, Europe, and South America. For the better part of twenty years I have participated in the summer workshops held at the Paper Mill/Museum in Capellades, just outside of Barcelona. I noticed for the first time that this summer’s brochure describes me as a “collaborator” of the museum. Certainly I have always taken great pleasure in my activity there so this recognition, although purely honorific, constitutes the closest institutional affiliation I’ve had since moving abroad.

Briefly, I would like to pay homage to my principal art teachers, all of whom I remember fondly and hold in the highest esteem: James Green, an excellent watercolorist, communicated the joy of painting from nature along the Mississippi River at The Principia College from which I graduated with a B.A. in 1954.

At Cranbrook Academy of Art, where I graduated with an M.F.A. in 1955, Zoltan Sepeshy was a master of egg tempera painting and a highly regarded figurative painter on the national scene. Trenchant as an art teacher, his criticism was often ironic and vaguely disconcerting. You wanted to be on your toes.

After making my first prints at Cranbrook I went to Paris the following year to study etching and engraving with Stanley William Hayter at his internationally renowned Atelier 17. Hayter simply reinvigorated the whole field of intaglio printmaking and his influence was especially strong during the post-war expansion of university printmaking departments.

Lastly – for chronological reasons only – I mention Douglass Howell who opened my eyes to the beauty of paper, to its aesthetic dimension and potential. I can only acknowledge his generosity of spirit and the debt of gratitude I owe him.

Technical Considerations

To number or not to number the edition? Or, more fundamentally, do the 152 paper pieces each artist has made for this portfolio constitute an edition in the first place? The instructions and accompanying guidelines provided by Hand Papermaking keep the issue wide open. The underlying premise seems to be that the work will be signed and numbered as the artist deems convenient. A matter of individual judgment then, and just as well, because ahead lies murkiness.

At the very least we are dealing with a series because to speak of an edition strongly suggests intentionality, namely, the desire to repeat an image that may or may not be everyone’s idea in the first place. Our notions of “edition” come to us from the world of books and prints where specific practices have long since been codified with uniformity of paper and impression being the basic touchstone. Thus, to introduce frivolities in the paper would upset that balance and by treating paper as a painting medium in itself and to continue to use the language of prints pretty much confounds tradition and old definitions.

Years ago I attempted to get a handle on this new situation for my own art. Upon cutting a free-shaped stencil and after making various pulp paintings from it, I was struck by the fact that they were both different and alike in equal measure. The non-rectangular format registered very strongly and emphasized the sameness of shape. In the fractional notation of editions we are all acquainted with, they were Not alike/Alike where the numerator as expressed by a number was a determined painting and the denominator the “edition” of the paper shape. In an attempt to strip off electrons and to further condense this notation, it came out as “Not/Alike” where the forward stroke seems to say “yet.”

This ambivalence persists for me even when my stencils are rectangular but have an interior pattern of perforations. For this project I made 152 pulp paintings, all different – apart from the artist’s telltale tics and squiggles – but each sheet, after a number of transfers of pulp washes, was carefully crafted by hosing around and through a protective stencil. Thus I was made keenly aware of the editioning of the shape of the work. More so than if I had been forming sheets from a mould. Not including the collecting of rag (predominantly cotton and synthetic fibers) and pulp preparation which Victoria Rabal helped me with during the winter, the final three-week work schedule of making the art at the mill decidedly re-enforced the feeling of a production/series/edition – call it what you will.
With my Not/Alike rationale to guide me, I signed and numbered my series of pulp paintings but I can certainly understand why other artists would be loath to do likewise in similar circumstances. Quickly – the more ideas the better before someone sets the whole matter in cement.

Aesthetic Observations

It is a four-word statement that deserves to be carved in the lintel over the doorway to Modern Art and I don’t understand why it didn’t stop dead in its tracks the often arid debate over figurative vs. abstract art of the past century. “I paint my think,” said Paul Klee at age six(!). (“From the mouths of babes…”)

Well, when it comes to making art, don’t we all, but to formulate that insight over one hundred years ago and at such a tender age was a stroke of lucidity, of synthesis, and the grammatical slip. That the quotation comes to us translated from German heightens the impact. To ring true, however, the term “think” must be understood in an expansive way – to feel, to imagine. The full panoply of human emotions, in addition to cognitive thoughts, is what feeds the wellspring of inspiration, of artistic impulse.

A visitor to my studio once asked me – disapprovingly, I suspect – why I had made holes on the sides of one of my paper works. I was startled to realize that I couldn’t answer her and mumbled unconvincingly something about wanting to add a constructive element to the painting. Her question caught me off guard largely because I was at the hunch stage – it was more a proto-thought – and I could not quite articulate what my purpose was.

I was groping along the right track but it took time and work to arrive at a fuller understanding of what I am aware of now: I want to “geometricize” my painting. I feel the need of a counterpoint to the freedom and slop of pulp play. I want to perforate the painting surface to permit the eye to see through to a space behind the picture plane. For reasons of scale, the holes in the present work for the portfolio are small and perhaps read as black buttons more than anything else, but there still remains the suggestion that something might be going on behind the picture. On a larger scale with many holes, the painting composition pretty much gets eaten up, but there is created a visual hum of light and shadows against the wall (when the work is framed in double glazing) that in turn becomes an additional and complementary aesthetic element.

Art doesn’t have to breathe like some sport fabric and yet this “see-thru” aspect of the picture plane is of growing importance to me. It took considerable meandering over the years to arrive at this point. My “think,” however, also includes ideas about paper and prints, which is to say I don’t feel agenda-driven or obliged to wash out holes in wet pulp each and every time I put on rubber boots to go to work. I can easily take a day off from art theory, even two.

I Dreamt I Schlepped Paper in my Summer Pajamas and Other Confessions

In the mid-to-late sixties there appeared on the scene with little fanfare a hand paper mill called Waterleaf Mill. The world took little notice of the event because there were only fifty people to whom Waterleaf Mill announced itself. If this sounds passing strange, think sham. There were sample sheets of handmade paper, that much was real. I made them myself at Cranbrook Academy of Art. But Waterleaf Mill as a legal entity was a fiction. Its stationery – that too was tangible – bore a letterhead, a P.O. Box number in Birmingham, Michigan and that was it.

In the annals of fraud this deceit is small bore, to be sure. (But, your Honor, it was only meant as a lark.) I prefer to think of Waterleaf Mill as an exercise in market research. It was designed to answer the burning question: what impact might an American handmade paper make on the artistic community generally and on printmakers particularly. I wasn’t planning to make paper commercially at this time in my life but I nevertheless found the proposition intriguing. Left to my own devices I could never have brought this off. I needed a partner in high jinx and I had just the person at hand –Russell E. Moriarty. With a name like that we were already streets ahead. (Readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will recall that Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis was named Moriarty, a criminal mastermind.)

A dear friend of the family, great pal and bridge partner, Russell was a man of contagious high spirits with enough adventure under his belt to last several lifetimes. A P-47 combat pilot in WWII, he was an authentic and much decorated hero. Shot down and interned by the Germans, he escaped to fly again – and to be shot down a second time. And to escape yet once more! With the help of the French underground he made it to Spain but the Guardia Civil in Figueres handed him over to the Germans who treated him none too kindly for his troubles (“They cleaned my clock” was his only comment). He sat out the remainder of the war in a prison camp.

Overqualified for the caper at hand, Moriarty was a manufacturer’s representative of more than one steel mill and owner of a plastics company in Birmingham. A seasoned operator in the brutally competitive world of Detroit automotive where bids on screws and other bits of hardware are nicely calculated to the second (if not third) decimal place, he handily drafted a cover letter for Waterleaf Mill. In addition to paper sizes, price breaks and shipping information, the letter, in accordance with hallowed marketing practices, was designed to elicit a response from the fortunate recipient. Thus, into cardboard tubes with Waterleaf Mill mailing labels went the letters and carefully rolled sets of full sample sheets of various colors, including white, measuring approximately eight by eleven inches. Smoke and mirrors perhaps, but a very smart looking presentation, very professional.

I should explain that we were casting a rather wide net. On our mailing list in addition to printmakers – famous American printmakers, some of whom were authors of widely used texts – were a few print publishers, graphic workshops and art editors of a number magazines and broadcast companies. The polling results, please (drum roll). And then imagine the Energizer bunny’s battery dies and he falls over. One person responded.

“Hey, two percent response. That’s not bad. One percent is considered normal.” Moriarty was trying to buck up my spirits. That or it must have been Black Humor Day. Yes, maybe there was room for gratitude after all in that one percent of fifty people is body parts. The printmakers were a screaming disappointment. Not a single word of acknowledgement. “Say, interesting paper. Let’s keep in touch” or, “Can you make this size or the other?” The novelty of the event went totally unremarked. Some months later at one of the Roten Gallery print displays in the Cranbrook Library I saw the Waterleaf Mill sample sheets incorporated in a small format, unbound book with accompanying printed illustration of one of the artists we had sent paper to, the ingrate.

Tantrums aside and allowing for skewed data, what makes artists in general so terribly conservative in their paper selection? Does the accumulated weight of tradition in printmaking – all those crafts and skills to master – somehow inhibit experimentation where paper is concerned? And I merely refer to white and off-white paper to keep it simple. The adventurous souls in this department seem a distinct minority. There is one print publisher, in particular, with a world of experience in encouraging his artists to consider handmade paper for their prints – leading horses to water, metaphorically speaking – who can best form a nicely shaded opinion on this subject. As it turns out, he is the very same person who so eagerly responded to our mailing thirty-odd years ago.

Ken Tyler, our 2% man, not only had questions about Waterleaf’s paper; he wanted to fly to Detroit to visit the mill! Claxon – “Dive! Dive!” While Moriarty and I had cunningly seen to it that no telephone number appeared on the letterhead, it quickly became evident that all further contingency planning was going to be ad hoc (Latin for “No, you answer the letter.”) I don’t remember how Moriarty finessed the situation but I wasn’t perturbed. Hadn’t Waterleaf’s CEO outwitted his wartime captors?

Anyone in his right mind would have called it quits at this point and possibly have looked into a new line of work. But before throwing in the towel we had one more card to play. The following summer we would pitch Andrews Nelson Whitehead – as they were then called – the paper importers, at their old address on Laight Street in Tribeca. Let’s see how they might react. The following August the Moriartys came out to eastern Long Island on a visit. At an early hour of the appointed day Moriarty came by to pick me up at my parents’ house and with a portfolio of paper in the back seat of his car we were merrily off for Manhatten.

The scene is the front office of ANW. General introductions all around and my recollection is I sat down off to one side and didn’t say boo. This was Moriarty’s show. So smooth, so jolly and funny he was. A millionaire salesman on a busman’s holiday, he had a product ANW hadn’t seen in decades: an American handmade paper. Oh my Lord, the blarney, the chutzpah – was this legal? One moment Moriarty was lecturing the ever-gathering group of employees on the virtues of handmade paper and the next, making outrageous claims for a phantom mill.

Meanwhile I was squirming in my seat. Only Toad of Toad Hall drove more recklessly. Moriarty was building up a dangerous head of steam; he was bound to derail his great machine at any moment. I was also squirming for another reason. At one point mid-morning I discovered I wasn’t wearing underwear but, rather, pajamas. Dressing in the dark so as not to awake the family I had groggily slipped my trousers on over pajama shorts. Hence, the somewhat surrealistic Maidenform Bra moment, except that I wasn’t dreaming.

Or was I? How we got out of ANW offices with our cover intact, I don’t know. Equally perplexing was bumping into Jack Robinson from ANW in New York some years later and being asked, “How come you never delivered the ream of paper we ordered?” WHAT ream of paper? Moriarty had done his job too well. So much tomfoolery had addled my brain. I must have pushed the whole matter to the back of my mind because the purpose of Waterleaf Mill was never really to sell paper but rather to stir up a certain sector of the art community, to beat the bushes and see what might jump out.

In a fitting coda Ken Tyler came to Cranbrook in the spring of 1970 to give a lithographic workshop and predictably enough got excited over our modest paper operation which, as I have described many times before, was contained in what had been a double janitor’s closet. This small room contained beater, vat, couching table and standing press. I don’t think he ever realized he was at last, in a very real sense, visiting Waterleaf Mill.

That summer at Cranbrook John Koller and I made paper at Tyler’s bequest for an edition of Roy Lichtenstein’s (a black and white line cut). I was on my way to Spain and Koller to Connecticut. The following year 1971 turned out to be a banner year for small paper mills. By then along with Kathryn Clark – Cranbrook at one remove, if I may respectfully cast my wide net again – Koller and I had established our respective paper studios and were making paper early on for Gemini G.E.L.

Even after Tyler left shortly thereafter to start his own publishing company Gemini continued to provide handmade paper for its artists. Ken Tyler may not have been the only paper sensitive print publisher on the scene thirty-odd years ago – I’m thinking principally of Tatyana Grossman of Universal Art Editions Limited for whom Douglass Howell occasionally made paper – but he was far and away the most enthusiastic. After a long working relationship with Koller, Tyler eventually installed his own in-house paper facilities at Tyler Graphics and has since employed paper in ambitious and imaginative ways.

While Koller and Clark had no problem in naming their mills – HMP and Twin Rocker respectively – I dawdled forever. I considered King’s Mill, not out of any twisted megalomania, I hasten to add, but only because my Hollander beater was made in Molins de Rei (Catalan for Molinos del Rey). Lying just to the west of Greater Barcelona, the municipality of Molins de Rei, which was founded in 1190 under Jaume I, is predominantly industrial and manufacturing in nature. Thus, while overly splendid to my ear in English translation, the use of the Catalan or Spanish name to identify a paper studio in Barcelona could be confusing (not to mention seriously lacking in cachet).

Meanwhile, in the setting up of my studio, I ordered two pairs of moulds and a single mould with watermarks consisting of an overhand knot with my name beneath, all meticulously jig-sawed out of copper flat stock and sewn to the wire screening. In the very first Gemini order Tyler asked that the watermark be removed. Ouch, that hurt but he was right. The design was showing up in ghostly fashion through the ink in a proof of a Jasper Johns print, a four-panel lithograph. This was the first of his “flagstone” series, which, incidentally, was that rare example, I was later informed, of the statement of a theme first appearing in a print and then subsequently in painting rather than the other way around.

As I never replaced the watermark of my large mould, most of the paper I made was unidentifiable and I still didn’t have a name for my studio until nine years later in 1980 when I finally called it, unimaginatively enough, Barcelona Paper Workshop. By then my papermaking days – making paper for others, I mean – were largely behind me. I had started to have artists coming to work in the studio. This too, like the paper production, was on an irregular basis.

One day some years later Pat Baldwin, a fellow artist, came to visit. A former colleague of a mutual friend from their days in an animation studio in California, she explained that she was living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where she taught a class in papermaking at the art school there. She told me the name of her paper studio was Waterleaf Mill.

There was no sudden drop in temperature nor did I feel compelled to believe in parallel universes. Shades of paper mills past, to be sure, but nothing to get creepy over. Indeed, my overriding emotion was one of quiet satisfaction. Waterleaf Mill, its madcap and slightly disreputable past having been redeemed, so to speak, now had a nice permanent home. Pat subsequently moved to Bisbee, Arizona, a former copper mining town near the Mexican border and maintains a web page for her art activities: Waterleaf Mill and Bindery and Pequeno Press. To visit her website, go on line and just type “Waterleaf Mill” – a beautiful name – in your search engine, press SEARCH and then cross your fingers you aren’t x-filed back to Detroit of the sixties.

Certainly there are many ways to slice and dice the events of the past few decades in the world of handmade paper and I have highlighted just one particular aspect of its development. For example, in addition to making paper for printing Koller and Clark almost from the beginning were collaborating with artists in the making of paper art. And just a few years later in 1976 Sue Gosin founded Dieu Donne, a singular and pioneering event for New York especially, where art collaboration is very much the order of the day.

Yes, the paper movement was jump-started by the needs of print publishers and anyone who intends to make paper commercially will want to pay special heed to them. But simultaneously a growing number of artists in parallel fashion were steadily exploring the esthetic qualities of pulp and paper all along. Names made famous on canvas (Stanley William Hayter’s phrase) making prints on the one hand, and lesser known artists getting their hands into wet pulp on the other – this top-down-bottom-up dichotomy was strongly characteristic from the beginning. However, this effect has arguably softened as papermaking has expanded in the intervening years hyphenating with other artistic disciplines.

From university art departments and art centers to paper mills, from private presses and print publishers to artist studios – on the evidence there is an ever richer mix of artists bringing to the world of paper and pulp a splendid vitality.

“Paper Trails, Douglass Howell, and how paper won its way into western art”

by Andrea Swanson Honoré

In the words of Laurence Barker, “papermaking is a two thousand year old craft on the one hand and a relatively recent activity in the world of art on the other.” While both ends of this statement are of interest – paper’s history and importance as a craft and its multifaceted role in recent art activity – what is of greatest interest to this discussion is the larger transition of papermaking from “craft” to “art” that is implicit in Barker’s comment. The four artists featured in this exhibition – Laurence Barker, Golda Lewis, Clinton Hill and Walter Hamady – all played a central role in the emergence and integration of handmade paper into American artmaking over the past forty years. This exhibition is also fortunate enough to include a selection of works by Douglass Morse Howell (1906-1994) – who has been universally acknowledged as the father of the American reinvention of hand papermaking as an art form.

Papermaking first came about in China, around 105 B.C., when a (probable) combination of intuition and pragmatism led someone to macerate plant fibers from tree bark, sieve the residue onto a screen and let it dry in the sunshine till it formed thin sheets. It is hard to underestimate the importance of paper to Chinese culture, as this one cheap, transportable substance can be tied to the establishment of a common written language, to the unified governance of a far-flung nation and to the longest continuous record of a nation’s history. By the 12th century, trade with the Orient introduced papermaking to Europe, where cotton and linen rags replaced mulberry bark as the ‘stuff’ of Oriental papers. Western paper didn’t come into widespread use until the 1450s, following the popularization of Gutenberg’s cast metal type and printing press. Paper has always been allied to printing in the West, and as such, has been the primary vehicle for the recording and transmission of our history and culture. After 1800, the invention and gradual refinement of the Fourdrinier cylinder-type paper machine enabled the speedy manufacture of wide and continuous rolls of paper – developments which spelled the death of the craft guilds that had been producing individual sheets by hand, and ultimately spurred the invention of a high-speed rotary press for printing . Increased production of paper in turn drove the search for cheaper materials. Although experiments with wood pulp in papermaking date back to the 18th century, it is not until the 1870s that wood pulp paper had entirely replaced cotton rag paper in American newspapers. Needless to say, the industrial manufacture of paper has proceeded at such a pace as to make it one of the most ubiquitous substances on earth.

Before about 1960, artistic interest in paper was entirely as a surface upon which to print or draw. The industrially manufactured, wood pulp paper that is so commonplace in our daily lives, is not at all, however, suitable as a substrate for fine printing or for art. (The image of a newspaper yellowing after a few days on the breakfast table is enough to establish that point.) In Europe, there was enough of an industry in fine printing to warrant a market in better papers. In America, however, late 19th and early 20th-century printmakers reacted to the dearth of suitable art papers by tearing blank sheets out of old bibles (Childe Hassam), by contracting with German mills for custom rag paper (Gustave Baumann), or by ordering Eastern mulberry papers from dealers such as Harrison Elliot’s Japan Paper Company in New York. Dard Hunter, in the midst of his researches on the history and science of papermaking, connected artists such as Baumann, with European paper mills for their art-appropriate papers. Yet even in Europe, production of quality cotton rag papers decreased markedly after World War II. In her 1963-4 report to the Ford Foundation, June Wayne (the founder of Tamarind Institute and Lithography Workshop) wrote that “the supply of handmade, all rag paper, is choking to a trickle.” Wayne’s comments were made on the cusp of “the handmade paper revolution” in America, but like all revolutions, the seeds were sown well in advance.

The incredible “revolution,” or more accurately, “sudden intense interest” in hand papermaking by American artists, finds its beginnings in the career of one man, Douglass Morse Howell (1906-1994). Howell had stumbled into papermaking while seeking better paper for his own wood engravings in the 1930s. He encountered the writings of paper historian Dard Hunter in the New York Public Library. Howell set up his first papermill in a cold-water flat on Grand Street in New York City, and in 1950, set up a paper studio on Long Island in New York. Howell began by producing paper for his own limited edition books, but his endeavor was not particularly well-received in conservative book arts circles, where he was accused of “making baby blankets, not paper.” Howell’s papers, made from pure linen or home-grown flax and local spring water, were indeed of an entirely different and original texture, color, and weight than anything else being produced at the time. Artists, including Joan Mirò, Stanley William Hayter, Jasper Johns, Anne Ryan, and most notably, Jackson Pollock, delighted in this beautiful and novel substrate for printing, collage, drawing and watercolor. In the words of his student and chronicler, Alexandra Soteriou, Howell “emancipated paper from its role as printing surface alone. He focused instead on the nature, aesthetics, and creative possibilities of paper itself.”

Howell himself began creating paper art, or papetries, with inclusions of fiber, fabric and subtly placed filaments within the paper itself. He made his first pulp paintings by ‘stopping out’ a design with wooden stencils and reimmersing the mould in different batches of colored pulp. Howell also experimented with three-dimensional paperworks on wire molds. His papetries were exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1955, and a retrospective exhibition of his papers was held at the American Craft Museum in 1982, and the New York Public Library in 1987. In addition to his historical and scientific researches on paper, Howell lectured and wrote articles on paper properties and the use of paper in fine bookmaking and artistic printmaking. While it is not at all clear that the artistic elevation of hand papermaking was the primary aim of Howell’s various writings and researches, he happens to have attracted students whose work and teachings were critical to that change of status. Laurence Barker and Golda Lewis were among his very first students; the ever-widening tree of hand papermakers and artists working in paper who can be connected to Howell’s teaching is the subject of Susan Gosin’s essay in this catalogue.

With or without his approval, Howell lived to see the craft of papermaking pass irrevocably into the realm of art. Walter Hamady claimed “the movement began in the sixties at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, sparked by Laurence Barker…(and) the timing was right. The boom in printmaking was on, prints are printed on paper, the paper was/is part of the expression, a larger vocabulary was needed and American ingenuity filled the need.” The amazing surface, or texture, that distinguishes handmade paper from commercially milled papers, is undoubtedly one aspect of the ‘vocabulary’ to which Hamady is referring. Handmade papers that incorporated fibers or contained dyed pulp added another layer of interest to prints, at the very moment when artists were drawn to printmaking precisely because of its different layers and applications of meaning on the surface. Ken Tyler, printer extraordinaire and one of the major figures in the “American paper revolution,” said that he was initially drawn to handmade paper and pulp as a medium because he was “so bored” with the smooth surface of the prints being made.
Collaboration – between artists and professional printers in print workshops – was another important aspect in the printmaking boom of the 1960s that provided a working format for papermaking/ papermakers in the arts. Many cite as the critical step over the craft-art threshold for paper, as Robert Rauschenberg’s 1973 collaboration with the Richard de Bas Papermill in France and printer Ken Tyler on his achingly beautiful Pages and Fuses projects. The attention drawn by Rauschenberg’s project encouraged artists as well as university art departments and professional print workshops to move into hand papermaking.

Other larger and longer developments in 20th-century art proved auspicious (in hindsight) for the reception of papermaking into the artistic fold. In 1978, artist Kenneth Noland commented that, “In modern art, there’s been a gradual elimination of using drawing to make images. As that has been withdrawn by some artists, a different kind of emphasis has taken place in drawing. It has more to do with tactile relations in handling stuff. I am referring to the interest in collages as an example – taking things and pasting and sticking them instead of having to depict things by drawing. This new interest in papermaking gives artists access to the stuff.” Two important elements emerge from Noland’s comments: the direct handling of materials by artists and the concept of collage. Taking the long view, these two elements have been of enormous importance to Western artists ranging from Picasso and Braque, to Schwitters, Duchamp, and of course, Rauschenberg. In the microcosm of this exhibition, these are also precisely the elements which motivated Clinton Hill, Golda Lewis and scores of other artists to begin (and to continue) their work in paper. The use of ‘excerpted’ materials in a collage format is a leading theme of Walter Hamady’s art as well.

However it is that one chooses to construct the forces of personality, innovation and history as explication, papermaking arrived. The 1970s witnessed the establishment of a score of small-scale art and book-oriented American papermills. A plethora of conferences, exhibitions and publications – with names like “Paper Now,” “New Ways with Paper” and “the Paper Explosion”- documented as well as nourished artistic participation in all forms of handmade paper activity (see Annotated Bibliography at end of catalogue). This surge of interest in paper was so marked in the late 1970s that in 1979, The Print Collector’s Newsletter published an issue which queried leading papermakers as to whether the “boom” would last, and attempted to flush out some predictions on the future of papermaking in America. Responses ranged from cynical to evangelical, but largely the respondents acknowledged that the versatility of the medium would allow it to outlive its “faddishness.”

To quote one unnamed paper artist, “the housewives making paper from their kitchen blenders finished paper in New York. No one wanted to show it after a while.” Indeed, the craze begun by professional artists and printmakers did extend out to suburban craft groups and art centers. Clinton Hill also recalls speaking to some of these groups and seeing paper made from all manner of foodstuff and vegetation without regard to the archival properties of the paper. In the aforementioned article in Print Collector’s Newsletter, Douglass Howell was asked about the increased number of artists making their own paper, and quipped, “…they lack the skill in preparation of stuff for papermaking.” Beyond basic technical or archival qualities, much of this material (sadly) presented papermaking as an end in itself, rather than as a means to effect an artistic idea. One of the more insightful comments about the role of papermaking in the arts came from John Koller, of HMP Papers in Connecticut. Koller wrote, “perhaps most noteworthy of paper’s qualities is what might be called its humility – in the sense of quiet service. This quality seems in some danger of being swallowed up in the current rush. While I sympathize with the desire to better understand and use paper and the papermaking process, the urge to isolate and pedestalize this material may be a disservice to it.”

Despite the taint of “faddishness” that it witnessed in the early 1980s, today, the use and manufacture of handmade papers is completely fixed in the landscape of fine arts and fine printing in America. With a nod to Koller’s insight, papermaking has prevailed because of its ‘servitude’ to various types of expression. The four living artists featured in this exhibition effectively represent four of the major avenues by which papermaking has entered the fine arts in America – printmaking, sculpture or dimensional work, collaborative work in paper as a self-standing medium, and fine printing or bookmaking (see also individual artist’s biographies elsewhere in this catalogue). Laurence Barker established the first college-level program in papermaking in America as an aspect of the printmaking program at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Barker himself prints upon his own handmade paper and has collaborated as a papermaker on print projects with Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mirò, and Jasper Johns among others. Golda Lewis exhibited artworks made from paper as early as 1963 and has since explored the dimensionality of paper by attaching pulp to canvas and in any number of relief, embedded and collaged pieces. Clinton Hill created works in paper as a self-standing medium in collaboration with papermaker, John Koller (a Laurence Barker student). Hill’s works in paper utilize watermarks, inclusions, and colored pulp applied by hand and with stencils. In 1964, Walter Hamady ( a Laurence Barker student) established his own papermill, Shadwell Papermill, in the service of his own press, The Perishable Press, Limited, which has now published over 125 small editions of handmade books. Hamady’s books constantly challenge the parameters of bookmaking in their exquisite craftmanship and printing, in their use of original literature, and in their innovative and often irreverent design and conception.

All four of these artists have been pioneers in the sense that they entered an arena of artistic activity that could only be called a movement, or legitimately art, a decade or so later. The chain of knowledge from Douglass Howell is quite direct in the case of all four artists. So it seems appropriate to rely on the eloquence of Howell’s first student, Laurence Barker, in closing:
“When Howell began to make paper forty years ago, many of the people now engaged in it were not yet born….The camaraderie and mutual support that a craft activity can engender among its practitioners was something Howell did not experience until relatively late in life. Perhaps this is what it means to be a pioneer….whatever we have accomplished as artists in the field of paper has been but an extension of Douglass Howell’s beach-head.”

Un Viaje desde Westbury a Chillicothe

Laurence Barker (Museu Molí Paperer – Capellades, Informatiu núm. 07, 1997) (Hand Papermaking, Summer 1997, Volume 12, Number 1) English version


Como dice el filósofo- y a mi me parece cierto- la vida se vive en dirección hacia delante, pero se entiende mirando hacia atrás.

Desde que dejé Barcelona en 1995, he estado construyendo mi estudio nuevo en Sarasota, Florida (estoy a punto de acabarlo) – hacia delante – pero como los retrasos y los problemas técnicos frenaban un poco el proceso, he tenido tiempo y oportunidad para mirar hacia atrás. El resultado es este artículo que escribí para la revista Hand Papermaking en el cual explico mis experiencias con Douglas Howell y Dard Hunter, los dos principales precursores en el renovado interés en hacer papel a mano en los Estados Unidos.

El campo de este artículo está limitado y hay mucho más en mi retrovisor que no menciono, principalmente mi búsqueda quijotesca del arte y de la manufactura del papel a mano que me trajo a Cataluña en 1970. Como es natural, el Museo y molino de papel de Capellades sirvió, y continúa sirviendo, como faro para todos los aficionados al papel, ya sean conservadores, investigadores, artistas o solamente visitantes.

Mas allá de la historia bimilenal de papel, incluso ahora en este momento, el potencial para el romance y la aventura en una tina llena de agua y pulpa es enorme. Este es el trasfondo de los talleres de papel que organiza el museo cada verano, donde los participantes se mojan las manos formando hojas de papel y diseñando con la pulpa; ésta era la convicción animadora en las vidas de Hunter y Howell y continúa siéndolo para muchos de nosotros, atraídos por el mundo encantador del agua y la fibra remojadas.

Desde Miquel Palet i Domènech, asi como su padre Miquel Palet i Sendrà, y en especial Lorenzo Vendrell, hasta Victòria Rabal Merola, directora actual del museo, no puedo mas que agradecer encarecidamente todas las amables personas que me ayudaron a adquirir el equipo y el material necesario para hacer papel en mi estudio de Barcelona. Donde confieso que pasé veinticinco años de mi vida muy mojados y felices.

Un viaje de Westbury a Chillicothe

Se me ocurrió el titulo de este artículo hace unos meses. Creí que era una manera apropiada de enlazar a Douglass Howel -con quien estudié en Westbury ( Long Island)- con Dard Hunter, a quien conocí brevemente en Chillicothe (Ohio)- las dos grandes figuras de la manufactura del papel a mano de los Estados Unidos en el siglo XX. Estos dos hombres, cuyas iniciales son las mismas, prefiguraron casi la totalidad de las actividades papeleras que seguimos hoy en día, en la producción de papel a mano para libros y arte.

Existían entre ambos importantes diferencias filosóficas y temperamentales, como así demuestran sus personales enfoques sobre la fabricación de papel. Desde una perspectiva impresionista, basada en mis experiencias personales, intentaré identificar y examinar sus diferencias puesto que éstas tienen una significación importante sobre las actitudes actuales en esta materia, y probablemente han influido en la manera en que se está enseñando. Éste es el viaje que he imaginado.

En síntesis, hacer papel a mano por un lado es una tarea artesanal con una historia de dos mil años y por el otro es una actividad reciente en el mundo del arte. Es algo simplista, pero no es del todo equivocado, delimitar los campos primarios de interés de nuestros protagonistas a lo largo de esta falla. El primer D. H., Dard Hunter -como artista, diseñador de tipos, componedor, tipógrafo, viajante mundial, historiador del papel y autor- resucitó el arte de hacer papel a mano y su práctica comercial en los primeros años de este siglo. En este arte, Dard Hunter siguió los métodos y las practicas tradicionales del viejo mundo.

Si los esfuerzos de Dard Hunter no se hubieran extinguido, si hubiera dejado escuela, no tendríamos que hablar de otra resucitación del arte de hacer papel a mano de nuestro segundo D.H. Douglas Howell, unas décadas más tarde. Esta vez, en mitad del siglo, hacer papel a mano se dirigía en otra dirección. En su Curriculum Vitae Howell se describe así: “Artista profesional, escritor, grabador, tipógrafo, componedor, y profesor adjunto. Con conocimientos de seis lenguas y de sus bibliografías clásicas, historia, ciencia y filosofía. Diseñador de Ingeniería Mecánica, Escritor en las Estéticas de la Destreza.“ Los dos D.H. tenían un gran bagaje.

El método y la actitud de Howell fueron radicalmente diferentes de los de Hunter. Con delicadeza, como quien tiene dinamita en las manos, me gustaría ultilizar la palabra amateur. Su sentido despectivo es ahora tan extendido que vale la pena recordar que un amateur es una persona que hace algo por amor y no por dinero. A nadie se le ocurre decir que los esfuerzos de los atletas amateurs de las olimpíadas no tienen ningún valor. Tomando en cuenta estos sentidos positivos de la palabra, pienso en Howell como un artesano amateur de papel y visionario. Él si se hizo suyo un tema de verdadero significado -una perspicacia en la dinámica estética del papel-.

¿Qué es lo que hizo Howell exactamente? En esencia, comenzando por el diseño de sus batidoras de laboratorio hasta la reducción de la fabricación del papel a proporciones domésticas, Howell preparó el camino del papel hecho en casa -una revolución del sótano- y dedicó su vida a hacer papel de gran belleza y a tratar la pulpa como un medio plástico en si mismo, por derecho propio -una revelacion estética. Especialmente con su papel de lino gelatinado de fibra larga cambió para siempre la manera en la que hoy vemos y pensamos acerca del papel.

Douglas Howell comenzó una edad de oro del papel hecho a mano. No conozco ningún precedente histórico de las actividades de hoy: mires donde mires todo está en marcha.

Alguien que habla o escribe de Howell debe afrontar la difícil tarea de reconciliar la importancia de sus logros con la propia evaluación de su obra, siempre se sintió insatisfecho con la naturaleza de sus descrubrimientos. Me sentí obligado a recordarle reiteradamente que estaba muy equivocado. O sea, que la naturaleza de su logro estaba principalmente en el campo de la estética y que su insistencia en la importancia científica de sus investigaciones era desequilibrada dado que estaba perdiendo su propio público, es decir, los artistas y artesanos. A mi entender, el mundo académico no se interesaba mucho por los resultados de sus investigaciones. En este sentido estaba curiosamente en conflicto consigo mismo.

En una ironía final, a pesar de haber sido él quien había introducido la idea de hacer papel a una escala doméstica, se distanció de los que le seguían sus pasos con entusiasmo.

Después de mi seminario de dos semanas con Howell en el verano de 1962, volví a la academia de artes de Cranbook con la intención de fundar un programa de fabricación de papel en el departamento de grabados. Guiado nada más que por un sentido osado, escribí directamente a Dard Hunter, sin previo aviso, preguntándole si tendría, por casualidad, una pila holandesa de laboratorio que pudiera darnos para ayudar a la fundación del programa para hacer papel. Recibí una respuesta de Dr Harry Lewis, entonces director del museo de papel de Dard Hunter, en el instituto de química de papel. Dr Lewis explicaba que Hunter estaba en Puerto Rico catalogando incunables españoles para el gobierno local, pero sí tenía una pila holandesa usada de sobra que limpiaría y nos mandaría.

El título del artículo se refiere a un viaje en sentido metafórico, pero también hice un viaje real en coche a Chillicothe un año o dos más tarde, en el que pasé por delante de la autopista que va hacia Westbury. Llegamos a la casa de los Hunter en Chillicothe “Casa de Montaña” alrededor del mediodía del día siguiente.

El Señor Hunter nos invitó a entrar y fue muy hospitalario y cortés. Le pregunté de forma genérica: “¿Por qué encolar el papel?” Pero el contestó según su experiencia personal. Me explicó que había perdido una resma de papel cuando imprimía “Papermaking by Hand in America” (Haciendo papel a mano en EEUU), debido a la expansión y encogimiento de las hojas. En su boca sonaba como un problema meramente práctico: encolar el papel reduce el coeficiente de expansión. Hunter también confesó que desde su punto de vista el potencial artístico más grande del papel eran las filigranas sombreadas. Asentí educadamente.

Nuestro curso en Cranbrook era todavía nuevo y le enseñé muestras de nuestro papel incluyendo un anuncio de la visita a nuestra escuela del club Grolier en Mayo de 1963. En la exuberancia de mi juventud debí haber dicho algo que no interpretó bien, porque en un momento de repente me dijo con desdèn: “Cualquier tonto puede hacer papel. Pero el logro es el de hacer una resma cada dia.” Sin embargo no había nada personal detrás de su comentario. Estaba solamente declarando el credo de un fabricante, lo cual no debería haberme sorprendido, sin embargo yo no estaba del todo convencido de que lo más importante fuera la cantidad.

Mi visita de una hora larga con Dard Hunter terminó con una cortés despedida, mi familia y yo continuamos camino. Me marché con una frase lapidaria en mi cabeza: “Cualquier tonto puede hacer papel” -conciso, claro y breve. “El logro es el de hacer una resma cada día.” Ser un diletante o ser un laurente a jornada completa -la elección a que nos conduce Hunter desanima. La etiqueta amateur podría ponernos los pelos de punta, pero encontramos la alternativa – la vida es real/la vida es dura – deprimente y menos atractiva. ¡Suena sospechosamente a trabajo!

Muy pocos de nosotros aspiran a ganarse la vida haciendo papel y es una señal del cambio copernicano de los últimos veinticinco años que un nuevo orden de artesanos de papel -tontos ninguno- ha surgido. Un grupo cuyas investigaciones van más allá de la simple producción de papel. Esta situación se debe enteramente al ejemplo de Howell, a su producción artística a pequeña escala, como resultado de múltiples cruces de disciplinas. Más que fabricantes de papel, somos principalmente artistas trabajando con pulpa, y concedemos a este medio toda nuetra destreza y excelencia, en una sola palabra: nuestra profesionalidad. Puede ser que trabajemos todo el dìa en la tina para producir una obra de arte, una hoja de papel o una posta de papel, pero nuestra actividad no puede ser medida contra los estándares de la producción comercial de papel hecho a mano.

Comparados con la actividad de hoy en día, los métodos de Hunter eran más convencionales, pero esto no disminuía su papel de pionero, y su contribución a las artes del libro. Superando innumerables dificultades técnicas, Hunter estableció el punto de referencia con su “The Etching of Figures” (Grabados de Figuras), producido para la Chicago Society of Etchers en 1915. Quizás el primer libro de la historia cuya producciòn fue hecha enteramente por un solo hombre, éste fue un logro tremendo. Sin embargo son las diferencias filosóficas enre Hunter y Howell lo que aquí me interesan, y en particular éste último presenta ciertas contradicciones que merecen más consideracion.

Lo siguiente me servirá admirablemente como ejemplo de las cartas que Howell me envió.

24 de Enero 1992

Querido Laurence,

Una carta escrita con brevedad. Sepa que nunca terminé mis investigaciones. Han sido continuas.

En 1962 pensaba que tú estabas muy ocupado al comenzar el curso. Pensaba que sería mejor no complicar tu vida de entonces presentándote la Física Aplicada pasando por la termodinámica. Por eso nunca te enseñe lo que había en esa habitación especial. Paso a paso era la sabiduría. Y tú tenías que leer mucho para definir el significado exacto de Palabras en la Tecnología. Ademas… tenías que encontrar tu propio camino en la fabricación de papel a mano. Pero ¿te has aprendido “Lo que significa el qué?”

Con mis mejores deseos (firmado)


Esta carta refleja perfectamente el espíritu amable y generoso de Howell. Encontré conmovedora su preocupación por mis progresos en el mundo de la manufactura del papel hecho a mano, pero tengo que confesar que no recuerdo ninguna habitacion especial. Sólo recuerdo el laboratorio instalado en su garaje de Westbury. ¿Hay aquí alguna insinuación sobre actividades transcendentales? Sea cual sea su verdadero significado siempre le he estado agradecido, a partes iguales, por lo que Howell me dió y por lo que me ocultó. Me enseñó los principios básicos de la fabricación de papel a mano, que me han servido bien, pero probablemente intuyó, correctamente, que la “Fisica Aplicada pasando por la termodinámica” habría puesto a prueba mi pobre cerebro.

Howell había escrito, con tiza, “Qué es lo que significa el qué?” sobre un confucto de aire en su sótano. Probablemente representaba para él el equivalente de la Comprensión Verdadera – ningún campo de investigación era demasiado arcano para él y en sus últimos días estaba estudiando la ciencia medieval de Japón y también el sánscrito. De forma clara y efectiva se había contruido un laberinto sin salida. Sospecho que la Comprensiòn Verdadera de Howell tenía que ver más con un estado de gracia que con la acumulación de conocimientos.

Desde Chillicothe a Westbury, desde “cualquiera puede hacer papel” hasta “nadie merece hacerlo si no ha bebido anteriormente de la fuente de la ciencia,” dos puntos de vista que no podían ser más divergentes. No obstante juntos levantan una polémica pertinente. Muchos departamentos de arte de universidades están ofreciendo ahora cursos sobre la fabricación de papel a mano. Por supuesto éstos deben enseñar los principios básicos dando una estructura teorética. Es necesario y aconsejable, pero ¿cuanto es suficiente?. Yo intenté, sin éxito, presentar a Howell la idea de la selección intelectual, la clasificación por prioridades de conocimientos, pues no quería que todos los aspectos teóricos del papel fueran tratados por igual, de tal forma que llegaran hasta la exclusión del arte. Mi correspondencia con él exploró ese tema durante varios años.

Últimas preguntas como “¿qué es lo que significa el qué?” quizás quedan mejor escritas sobre conductos de aire para servir como recordatorios epistemológicos de nuestra comprensión imperfecta de este mundo. Como artistas que somos necesitamos husmear nuestros propios caminos hacia la creatividad y buscar inspiración donde podamos: en lo alto de una colina ventosa, en el arte e ideas o quizás de igual verosimilitud dentro de una grieta en la acera. Compartimos instrucción artesanal, pero entonces andamos sin rumbo fijo por nuestra imaginación. Necesitamos experiencia de primera mano, es una necesidad en nuestros circuitos. Nuestra actividad papelera esta impulsada por el Arte, nos conduce a formar y plasmar imágenes. El hecho de que funcionamos a través de los sentidos y ganamos conocimientos empíricos haciendo alguna cosa (no aprendemos tanto el porqué funcionan las cosas sino el cómo) explica porqué tanta teoría puede hacerse pesada.

Debemos ser capaces de trabajar sin complejos porque ya hay suficiente ansiedad que acompaña el acto creativo sin la necesidad de empeorarlo con una preocupación desproporcionada por las “Leyes Inmutables de la Física” y las exigencias de la química orgánica. Afortunadamente hacer pulpa de papel textiles y fibras vegetales de la manera antigua es el único terreno de la manufactura de papel artesanal donde las demandas de la ciencia son mínimas. Aunque estaba encantado por la ciencia del proceso, Howell reveló la simplicidad escueta del tratamiento básico de hacer papel de gran belleza. Ésta ha sido la puerta secreta de la valla del jardín para muchos de nosotros, y en mi opinión constituye el principal legado de Howell.

No es que los limites fueran siempre bien definidos, pero esencialmente Howell completó su obra artística hace muchos años, mientras sus investigaciones científicas continuaron hasta el final de su vida. Desde mi punto de vista este aspecto de su obra es problemático, los contenidos de su “habitación especial” todavía podrían darnos una o dos sorpresas. Él dio un título gráfico y preliminar a su colección de artículos y notas: My Bare Bones (Mi esencia -lit: Mis huesos desnudos), lo cual sugiere una destilación de sus pensamientos y observaciones. Un libro grande o pequeño, espero que alguien lo publique, porque sin duda ayudará mucho a aclarar sus afirmaciones científicas por las que sentía tanta pasión.

Viajando por el mundo buscando aventuras en la fabricación de papel, haciendo investigaciones históricas, utilizando papel hecho a mano en nuestros libros y en nuestro arte, detrás de todas estas actividades se encuentra flotando sobre nuestros esfuerzos el espíritu de Dard Hunter y Douglas Howell. Nuestra deuda hacia estos dos pioneros es enorme, la mía especialmente dada la amable atención y la generosidad que me mostraron. Consciente de mi buena fortuna, por eso, desde hace mucho tiempo, les estoy profundamente agradecido.

A Journey from Westbury to Chillicothe

by Laurence Barker (versión en español) (Hand Papermaking, Summer 1997, Volume 12, Number 1)

I came up with the title of this article on the spur of the moment some months ago. It seemed like a suitable way to link Douglass Howell, with whom I studied in Westbury, Long Island, to Dard Hunter, whom I later briefly met in Chillicothe, Ohio—the two great ur-figures of twentieth century hand papermaking in America. These two men, who shared the same initials, pre-figured almost every paper activity we engage in today, from hand production to books and art.

Important philosophical and temperamental differences existed between them, as their approaches to papermaking show. Based on an impressionistic overview drawn from personal experience, I will try to identify and examine these differences because they have a significant bearing on present day attitudes toward the subject and probably influence the way it is taught. This is the journey I have in mind.

In synthesis, papermaking is a two thousand year old craft on the one hand and a relatively recent activity in the world of art on the other. It is somewhat simplistic, but not altogether misleading, to demarcate the primary fields of interest of our two protagonists along this fault line. The first D.H., Dard Hunter—as artist, type designer, type-setter, printer, world traveler, paper historian and author—resuscitated hand papermaking and its commercial practice early in this century. In this he closely hewed to traditional, old-world methods and practices.

If his good efforts had not essentially died off we would not be speaking about another papermaking revival at the hands of the second D.H., Douglass Howell, decades later. This time, at mid-century, hand papermaking took on another complexion altogether. In his curriculum vitae, Howell describes himself in these terms: “Professional Artist. Writer, author, editor, hand-engraver, typographer, hand printer. Adjunct Professor. With a working knowledge of more than six languages, their classic bibliography, historical, and into Science and Philosophy. Designer in Mechanical Engineering. Writer in the Aesthetics of Skill.” Both D.H.’s packed full bags indeed.

Howell’s approach and attitude differed radically from Hunter’s. As one would handle dynamite, I would like gently and respectfully to introduce the word “amateur.” Its pejorative meaning seems so pervasive that we do well to remind ourselves that an amateur is a person who does something out of love and not for financial gain. No one would classify the efforts of those amateur athletes at the Olympics in Atlanta last summer as being unskilled. I like the following example given in Webster’s Dictionary, from T.H. Williams: “the professional historians…have again let an amateur make off with a theme of real significance.” With these positive meanings of the word in mind, I think of Howell as an amateur papermaker and visionary. He did indeed make off with a theme of real significance—an insight into the aesthetic dynamic of paper.

Just what, exactly, did Howell do? In essence, beginning with designing his own laboratory-sized beaters, he scaled papermaking down to domestic proportions. He set the stage for home-made paper—a basement revolution—and devoted a lifetime to making beautiful paper and to establishing paper pulp as an art medium in its own right—an aesthetic revelation. With his long-fibered, gelatinized flax papers especially, he utterly changed the way we see and think about paper.

Douglass Howell ushered in a Golden Age of hand papermaking. I know of no historical precedent for today’s activity: look where you will, the joint’s jumping. You would have to know to what degree papermaking’s very popularity was anathema to Howell to appreciate the mischievous pleasure I take in voicing this simple truth. His scrupulous standards of conduct and work somehow prevented him from taking much joy in any of this.

Anyone who speaks or writes about Howell must face the difficult task of reconciling the importance of what he did with his own assessment of his work; he was deeply conflicted over the nature of his achievement. I felt, absurdly enough, obliged to explain to him time and again that he was barking up the wrong tree. Namely, that the nature of his accomplishment lay primarily in the field of aesthetics and that, by his lopsided insistence on the scientific importance of his investigations, he was losing his proper audience: artists and crafts people. Meanwhile, as far as I could see, the academic world was scarcely holding its breath for the results of his scientific research. In that sense he was curiously at odds with himself.

While he may have been interested in what a small coterie of friends and former students were doing, he clearly disconnected himself from what was going on around him further afield. Rembrandt’s concern for the “Optical Effect” in his prints, for example, may have been uppermost on Howell’s mind, but he took a dim view of contemporary artistic activity. In a final incongruity, despite being the very person who introduced the idea of creating paper works at the vat level, he disavowed those who so eagerly followed in his footsteps.

This saddened and frustrated me. In 1983, when the American Craft Museum dedicated an exhibition to him, I believe he never even visited a second, related venue, which featured a wide and fine selection of paper art. He revealed to me not the least bit of interest in the artwork of others, neither during the exhibition nor later.

In 1986 the Leopold-Hoesch Museum in Duren, Germany, held its first international biennial of paper art, which, by way of homage to Howell, featured his work in a separate gallery. There was a catalogue in German and English, thick with reproductions and various essays, an undertaking of no little magnitude: a first for Europe and, perhaps, the world. I sent him a copy. His reaction? With no cover letter attached but with the clear intention of minimizing the event, he sent me, for the umpteenth time, a photocopy of a ten year old certificate from The New York Academy, in recognition of his outstanding contribution. I congratulated him, as I had done years before, for this piece of old news. But I added, a bit crazed by now: “Tell me you’re enjoying a huge joke. Wink at me, give me a sign to indicate that you are aware of the importance of the present occasion.” No sign, no comment.

In his last years Howell felt the need to organize his research and publish his findings. I urged him to do so but to scrap the projected two volumes and settle for one. This came on the heels of his complaining of the lack of secretarial help. Then he needed a more powerful microscope. “Why do you need a more powerful microscope?” I asked, wondering to myself why he needed one at all. “What’s taking place on the microscopic level that’s so important for artists to know about?” Silence, more guarded silence.

My thirty year correspondence with Howell boiled down to a dialectical tug of war in which I could never sufficiently draw him out. Stratagem after stratagem failed. He proved marvelously resistant to dialogue, to sustaining a reasoned argument or thesis, much less a reasoned rebuttal. The letters he wrote to me—I never counted them but I received well over a hundred—were essentially exhortatory. They never really expanded on his positions, just repeated them. His letters were kind and full of yearning for the Verities but I found them too fragmentary to deal sufficiently with the issues his own work had raised or to coalesce into anything like a well-structured agenda.

After my two week seminar with Howell in the summer of 1962, I returned to Cranbrook Academy of Art determined to set up a paper program in the printmaking department. Guided by nothing more than a sense of blitheness, I wrote directly to Dard Hunter, out of the blue, inquiring if he might not have a spare laboratory beater that he could give us in our effort to start a papermaking program. I received a reply from Dr. Harry Lewis, then curator of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum at the Institute of Paper Chemistry, who explained that Hunter was in Puerto Rico cataloguing Spanish incunabula for the local government, but yes, they had a used Hollander they would clean up and send along.

The title of this article refers to a journey mostly in a metaphorical sense but I took a real trip by car to Chillicothe a year or two later, which actually led me right past Westbury on the Long Island Expressway. I was returning with my family to Cranbrook at the end of August, after a month’s vacation at my parent’s house in North Haven, Sag Harbor. We arrived at Hunter’s home in Chillicothe—Mountain House—around noon the following day.

Mr. Hunter graciously invited me in and was thoroughly hospitable in a rather courtly manner. He could not have been more cordial and informative. I asked him, “Why size paper?” I meant it as a general question but he answered me in terms of his particular experience. He told me that he had lost a ream of paper in the printing of Papermaking by Hand in America due to uneven expansion and shrinkage of the waterleaf. He made it sound like a purely practical matter: sizing paper reduces the coefficient of expansion. Hunter also confided that in his view the greatest artistic potential for paper lay in the area of chiaroscuro watermarks. I nodded politely.

Our program at Cranbrook was still quite new and I showed him paper samples, including a printed announcement of a visit The Grolier Club made to the school in May, 1963. In my youthful exuberance I may have innocently made some remark that struck him the wrong way, because at one moment he said with a flash of disdain, “Any fool can make paper. The trick is to make a ream per day.” There was nothing personal in this outburst, however. He was merely voicing a manufacturer’s credo, which should have come as no surprise, yet the sentiment somehow jarred me. I was not convinced that was the trick at all.

My hour long visit with Dard Hunter ended with a polite leave-taking, and my family and I were soon on our way. I left with a lapidary phrase: “Any fool can make paper.” For brevity and clarity you cannot beat it. “The trick is to make a ream per day.” To be a dabbler on the one hand or a full time vatman on the other—Hunter’s choices are dispiriting. We may squirm under the amateur label but we find the grim, life-is-real/life-is-earnest alternative even less attractive. It sounds suspiciously like work.

Very few of us aspire to make paper for a living and it is a measure of the Copernican shift that has occurred in approximately the last twenty-five years that a wholly new order of amateur papermakers—and nobody’s fools—has arisen, a group engaged in serious pursuits other than manufacture. This is entirely due to Howell’s example of artistic, small-scale activity with paper that has resulted in crossed categories. More than papermakers we are principally artists working with pulp and we confer our notions of skill and excellence—of professionalism, in a word—on the medium. We may work at the vat all day producing one piece of art, one sheet of paper or one post of paper, but our activity is not to be measured against a standard of commercial hand production.

Compared to today’s activity, Hunter’s approach to papermaking was more conventional but that does not diminish in the least his pioneering role, which rests equally upon his contribution to the book arts. Overcoming innumerable technical difficulties, he established a benchmark of excellence with The Etching of Figures, produced for the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1915, possibly the first book in the history of printing for which one man executed the entire production. This was a tremendous accomplishment. Nevertheless, it is the philosophical differences between Hunter and Howell, where they exist, that concern me here and the latter papermaker presents certain contradictions that require further consideration.

The following serves admirably as an example of Howell’s letters to me.

January 24th, 1992
Dear Laurence,
A letter written with great brevity. Do know, I never did stop my Research. It has been continuous.
Back in 1962, I thought you faced a great deal, at the start. I thought it wise not to complicate matters—by introducing you to all the Applied Physics, reaching into thermodynamics. That is why I never introduced you to what was ongoing in that special room.
One step at a time, was the wisdom.
And, you had reading to do, particularly for the exact meaning of Words, in the Technology.
Further—you had to find your own way, in this hand-papermaking.
But did you glean: “What is meant by what?”
With all my best wishes, [signed] Douglass

This letter captures perfectly Howell’s kind and generous spirit. His abiding concern for my progress “in this hand-papermaking” I found touching but I must confess that I do not recall any special room. I remember only the laboratory installed in his garage in Westbury. Is there a hint here of transcendental goings-on? Whatever he meant, I have always been grateful in equal parts for what Howell gave me and for what he withheld. He taught me the basic principles of papermaking, which have served me well, but he probably sensed, correctly, that “Applied Physics, reaching into thermodynamics” would have over-taxed my brain.

Howell had inscribed “What is meant by what?” in chalk on an air duct in his basement, and I made reference to it in a paper I later wrote describing my seminar with him. It was probably the equivalent of True Understanding for Howell and while no field of study was too arcane for him—toward the end of his life he was studying medieval Japanese science and contemplating Sanskrit as well—he had clearly and effectively created a labyrinth with no exit. I suspect True Understanding in his terms had more to do with a state of grace than any amount of accumulated knowledge.

The bracing sentiment of Hunter’s dictum, “Any fool can make paper,” clears the air, to be sure, but as applied to Howell the offending word is any. Howell had highly commendable elements of windmill-tilting fooldom about him. Idealistic and single-minded in the pursuit of his work, he appeared out of joint, uncomfortable with the times. Small wonder, in that he largely grew up in Italy where he was steeped in Renaissance art and scholarship from an early age. Howell credited Guido Biagi, Director of the Laurentiana, the great Medici Library, with awakening his consciousness, and he spoke of the Room of the Drawings where he studied works by the great masters “on and in handmade papers” as his favorite place. These were clearly among the most powerful and character forming events of his life and may creditably account, in part at least, for his dual interests in art and science.

From Chillicothe to Westbury, from anyone can make paper to no one is truly worthy to do so who has not drunk deep at the fountain of science, we arrive at two viewpoints that can scarcely be more divergent. But together they raise a pertinent issue. Many university art departments offer hand papermaking. Clearly attention must be paid to the teaching of basic, underlying principles, to a theoretical scaffolding. This is both necessary and desirable, but how much is enough? I tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce Howell to the idea of intellectual triage, the ordering of priorities of knowledge. I did not want the theoretical aspects of paper to be so equally eventful as to crowd out art. My correspondence with him followed this major theme over the years.

Final questions like “What is meant by what?” are perhaps best left on air ducts to serve as epistemological reminders of our very imperfect understanding of this world. As artists we must sniff out our own path to creativity and find inspiration where we will: high on a windy hill, in art and ideas, or, just as plausibly, in a crack in the sidewalk. We share craft instruction but then freely roam with our imagination. We need hands-on experience quickly: it’s the way we’re wired. Our papermaking is art driven; it propels us to shape and to make images. That we deal in sense-data and gain empirical knowledge through doing (we learn not so much why things work as how) explains why very much theory can pall.

We must be able to go about our work without complexes because enough anxiety floats over the creative act without the need to compound it with disproportionate concern for the “Immutable Laws of Physics” and the exigencies of organic chemistry. The making of pulp from textiles and vegetable fibers in the ancient manner, as luck would have it, is the one area in papermaking where these demands are mercifully minimal. Enthralled though he may have been by the science of it all, Howell in fact revealed the stark simplicity of the basic process for making beautiful paper. This has proved to be the secret door in the garden wall for many of us and, in my opinion, constitutes his chief legacy.

Not that the boundary was always clearly drawn, but Howell essentially completed his work as an artist many years ago, whereas his work as a scientific researcher, by his own admission, lasted to the end of his life. While in my view this aspect of his work remains problematic, the contents of the “special room” may yet yield a surprise or two. He gave a graphic working title to his assortment of writings and notes, My Bare Bones, which suggests a distillation of his thoughts and observations. Big book or little, I hope someone publishes it, because it should do much to burnish the scholarly claims about which he felt so passionately.

To the degree we travel around the world in search of papermaking adventures or do historical research, to the degree we employ handmade paper in our books and in our art, the spirits of Dard Hunter and Douglass Howell quietly hover, individually or collectively, over our enterprises. Our debt to these two pioneers is enormous, mine specifically for the kind attention and generosity they showed me. Sensible of my good fortune, for this I have long been keenly grateful.

An Interview with Laurence Barker

by John Gerard (Hand Papermaking, Summer Issue 1988)

Laurence Barker, born in 1930, established the first college-level papermaking workshop in the United States as part of the Printmaking Department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Michigan. During the brief period of the workshop’s existence (1963 – 1970), Barker inspired numerous students – a list of whom reads like a “Who’s Who in American Papermaking” – to explore new visions and forms of expression with paper. He moved to Barcelona, Spain, and finished building a paper mill / studio in 1971. He has made paper for all, and has collaborated with some, of the following artists: Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Joan Miro, Mark Tobey,David Hockney, and Ken Noland. His work is in numerous public and private collections.

In the fall of 1987 John Gerard interviewed him on his influential work at Cranbrook.

JG: Your interest in handmade paper began, it seems, almost coincidentally, with a sheet made by Douglass Howell shown to you by one of your students. Did your students encourage you to establish a workshop for papermaking at Cranbrook Academy of Art or was this your idea? Why establish a workshop in the first place?

LB: It’s true. That single sheet of Howell’s paper intrigued me, piquing my curiosity as no other paper had ever done. I can’t say there was a sudden epiphany in that I knew instantly I wanted to make paper, but it did trigger a sequence of events that led to precisely that.

Probably the single most important thing I learned from my experience with Douglass Howell was the mechanical simplicity of the basic process, the feasibility of making paper at home, as it were; beautiful paper unattainable on any market at any price. Such was the state of affairs not so many years ago when the world was young.

I thought by making our own paper, quite apart from the harmless conceit of executing a lonely end-run around the paper industry, we could reconsider the aesthetic of our work from a wider angle. After all, irrespective of the printmaking medium, what we hang on the wall is paper, ink on paper. This is obvious enough, but not, I feel, fully appreciated. How else can paper act? What happens when paper begins to assert itself?

While handmade paper can’t redeem weak drawing, to be sure, neither does it follow that art is best served by the repetitious use of one or two commercial brands of paper where the possibility of dialogue or a kind of aesthetic reciprocity between image and support is reduced a priori to a minimum.

My ideas about the role of paper in art would evolve and expand over the years, but this was the initial impulse that animated me during the fall of 1962 when I was gathering up the necessary equipment. After my seminar with Howell, the establishment of papermaking facilities was but a short and, by now, natural step for me to take.

Did my students encourage me? I don’t recall, but with such a sterling project afoot how could they not have done?

JG: Was the administration, especially Academy President Zoltan Sepeshy, receptive to the workshop?

LB: Yes, indeed. Zoltan and the administration were helpful and supportive at every point along the way.

JG: Was there further support from other members of the faculty? From the general student body?

LB: ‘Yes’ and ‘yes’, or do I mean ‘no’ and ‘no’? Polite interest so easily shades off into polite indifference, but then this is the natural order of things. How important and exciting, for example, can a new kiln in the Ceramics Department be for an architect? Or new, over-sized looms for a metalsmith? The point is, I enjoyed support where it counted. I never heard a discouraging word – not for many years, at any rate – and we were left to our own devices. ‘Twere bliss.

JG: Were there concerns as to relevance, financial backing, or space allotment?

LB: Not over relevance, certainly, and, as the most expensive item, the beater, was donated by the Dard Hunter Paper Museum at the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wisconsin, the whole installation presented no financial difficulties that I was aware of. Regarding space, I think a trade-off was made with the Sculpture Department wherein we ended up in their basement and they gained a room somewhere. A year or two later, the paper equipment would join the move of the Printmaking Department to its present quarters.

In other words, the operation was painlessly absorbed into the Printmaking Department. Infinitely more problematic would have been the proposal to make papermaking a service department available to all interested students. You would have needed a crystal ball twenty-five years ago, however, to realize the reasonableness of the idea. It would have been highly polemical then but surely, budgetary considerations aside, less so today.

JG: George G. Booth (1), Cranbrook’s founder, established the Cranbrook Press in Detroit in 1900 and used special handmade papers for his hand printed books. Did you consider this connection by tradition when the workshop was built?

LB: Not really. In fact, it seems I learned about that part of the story after we were already under way. His papers were made in Adams, Massachusetts, by L. L. Brown and Co. To make a book entails many disciplines and the early Cranbrook Press books were above all exquisitely crafted. I don’t remember a single title, but in my mind they were all medieval romances – such was the pervasive influence of William Morris’ Kelmscott Press; definitely period pieces in every sense of the word and consequently just too remote to exert any active influence in our work that I could observe.

On the other hand, the attraction I felt for typography might well date back to my Academy student days in the mid-fifties, to the library with its rare books and to Cranbrook Press itself, which had, by then, long since evolved into an institutional press and was housed on Academy premises.

Be all that as it may, I outfitted the department with modest typographic facilities and, with handpresses and papermaking at the ready, we called ourselves Lyra Press. Mighty build-up. Please don’t ask what we did by way of books and broadsides – not that much – but it somehow all fit in with my early notions of how, by upping the aesthetic wattage of paper, as I intimated earlier, one could transform, to some degree, all graphic images and that, surely, included typography with its abundant use of white space.

JG: You certainly had the spiritual backing of Henry S. Booth, son of the founder and long-time chairman of the board at the Academy [1944-1960]. Did he allow you use of the original molds of the Cranbrook Press?

LB: He did indeed kindly give us the molds to use but the problem was that the watermark “Cranbrook” figured prominently in every sheet. In short, they were just too institutional to be of much use.

I felt more beholden to Henry Booth for arranging the transfer of Cranbrook Press’ original handpress from Kingswood School for Girls, Cranbrook (2), where it just sat, to the Printmaking Department, where we used it and another Washington Press for some of our relief printing and the typographic activity.

JG: During the period of its existence was the paper workshop the specific reason or drawing card for some students to study at the Academy? If so, whom?

LB: With the possible exception of two people and qualifying like mad, I can’t think of anyone who came expressly for that reason. Roland Poska, having just graduated from the department, came back for a long weekend of papermaking instruction and was then off and running. Very soon thereafter he had installed his own equipment and was also teaching the subject at the now-defunct Layton School of Art in Milwaukee.

The other person is Walter Hamady, whose avowed interest in typography and books was made abundantly clear to me in his application to the department. He indicated an equally keen interest in the paper program when he learned it would be available.

Were you to reword your question slightly to “Was the paper workshop the specific reason for any student to choose printmaking as an elective?”, then I would be able to say yes. That one person was Winifred Lutz. I remember her telling me that she had prior, if tentative, experience making paper at home from banana – leaves, I presume. That was enough for me. Winifred worked completely independently and for all I know was making paper constructions across Academy Way in the Sculpture Department.

And then were you to ask, “Did anyone just walk into the shop willy-nilly and get excited about papermaking on the spot?”, I’d have another affirmative for you. At least this is what Timothy Barrett would tell me years after the event. As a young Cranbrook School for Boys student, he crossed the DMZ that separates the two institutions, wandered into the department and, ahh, the rest is history. Am I becoming shameless in my head count?

In a funny, wildly out-of-sync way, handmade paper didn’t become a drawing card, as you say, until after 1970 by which time I was in Spain and the paper program had been scuttled. I had finally heard a discouraging word and papermaking and I came to a parting of the ways with Cranbrook. In inverse order we were cashiered – the Academy, I should clarify, being under new management by this time. Parenthetically and on a personal note, cordial relations were fully restored some years later under yet another administration. The poet was right: there is an ebb and flow in the affairs of men. It’s not low tide forever.

JG: What were the specific reasons for the demise of the workshop?

LB: I have never inquired and to this day I don’t know. If my successor wanted the extra space for the department, he gained approximately 40 sq. ft., as the “mill” occupied what years before had been a double janitor’s closet. Speaking of modest beginnings and – I cannot help but feel – short-sighted endings.

JG: You began at the Academy with simple molds and presses, army blanket felts, and a 1.5 LB::. beater – essential sheet making tools and equipment. Did you develop any tool or techniques for working plastically with the paper pulp medium?

LB: In the making of two-toned paper and shaped paper I developed some fairly elementary techniques which included some dipping procedures that were a bit off-beat; this, however, within the context of sheet making. As regards more dimensional work there was at best but sporadic activity in the department. I do seem to recall a construction or two of John Koller’s and a few seasons earlier I made my one and only pulp casting. It was intended to be a test piece involving the making of a plastic mold on the then newly-installed vacuum-forming table in the Design Department; the matrix consisted of furniture from the type cabinet and wood type that spelled, I blush to relate, “What hath Barker wrought?”; further evidence, were any needed, that the least bit of silliness from the past can come home to roost.

Although technically a success, the pulp, once dry, separating easily and cleanly from the plastic mould, it just didn’t seem to be what I wanted and over the years I would develop other ways of working with pulp in relief that I would find more congenial. But that takes us beyond Cranbrook.

JG: Do you consider yourself at the front of a paper movement or simply a cog in the wheel of inevitability? Or something else?

LB: Something else. Make that anything else! “A cog in the wheel of inevitability”? Too gruesome. But perhaps you’re right about the seeming inevitability of these craft revivals and certainly it is in tune with the general spirit of the times, this returning to basics and starting all over again; old points for new departures. A lot of artists for many years now have been investigating new uses for pulp in their art. This diverse activity is what I understand to be encompassed by the term “paper movement”.

You ask whether I consider myself to be at the front of this. I don’t see how any single person can be today but, more fundamentally, I have difficulty thinking in these terms because I’m too keenly aware of who is behind it, a grayer beard than mine, and what was served to me on a silver platter.

Not very unlike Timothy Barrett at Cranbrook, I waltzed into Douglass Howell’s house on a summer’s day twenty-five years ago just as unknowing as could be where paper was concerned and totally unprepared for what I would see; a little beater, a little press, a couple of molds, and a vat (this is a papermill?) and wherever the eye travelled, stacks of beautiful paper – thin, thick, crinkly, colored (and these were made here in the basement?). Why, the hard work had already been done!

This, then, is the nature of my personal debt to Douglass Howell and that’s one thing, but because with rare sensitivity he gave first expression to a new way of seeing and thinking about paper, we are all indirectly indebted to him. He didn’t ring all possible changes – let someone else chronicle the development of paper art; who did what when – but what he did do over four decades and at no little sacrifice he did exquisitely. Simply put, he let the cat out of the bag.

JG: You established a workshop of your own in Barcelona in 1971. You continue to teach and to make prints and paper. What do you feel is your position or standing in the printmaking / papermaking world?

LB: Not to take the philosophical high ground, but I really don’t speculate along these lines as posterity will make short enough shrift of all of our aspirations, our little vanities. It’s quite enough that beyond my own art or rather, perhaps, in large part through it, I have been able to contribute, alongside many other people, to the expressive syntax and language of paper.


1. George G. Booth was president of the Detroit News. He established the private Cranbrook Press in the attic of the News building in Detroit and operated it until 1902. He founded Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1927.

2. Kingswood School for Girls, along with Cranbrook School for Boys, are built on the same campus as Cranbrook Academy of Art. All were under the aegis of the Cranbrook Foundation, now reformed as Cranbrook Educational Community.

Hand Papermaking and Paper Art by Victoria Rabal, Director of the Paper Mill/Museum of Capellades, and Laurence Barker

August (dates to be announced) – Pilar i Joan Miró Foundation, Mallorca

Hand Papermaking and Paper Art by Victoria Rabal, Director of the Paper Mill/Museum of Capellades, and Laurence Barker. The objective of this workshop is to provide a general overview of handmade paper with basic instruction in pulp preparation and sheet formation combined with special attention to paper’s plastic and esthetic qualities. Subjects covered include: comparative analysis of Oriental and Western methods, preparation of plant fibers for beating, their physical and chemical properties, coloring and sizing techniques and mold and watermark construction. Laurence Barker will present a review of his work in the field of paper art with special emphasis on the printmaking/paper dynamic. Instruction will be given in such pulp painting procedures as lamination and wash-out techniques.

For further information (soon to be posted): – or contact:

Joan Oliver
Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca
Joan Saridakis, 29
07015 Palma, Balearic Islands

Tel. 34 971 701-420
Fax 34 971 702-102

email: [email protected]