A couple weeks ago, VCS faculty member Amy Wilson took her first-year Foundation Drawing class to Dieu Donné Papermill to learn about papermaking. The field trip is an annual event in Amy’s class; last February, I wrote about the 2011 trip here, in a post featuring photos taken by VCS student Berny Tan.
This year Amy didn’t have a camera on hand, but she did take some photos with her phone. Most of the images came out a bit blurry, but I’ve included a couple of the better ones here, along with two short videos that she took.
Around the same time that Amy passed along her photos from the field trip, VCS fourth-year student Gionna Forte wrote a short piece about Dieu Donné and papermaking for an assignment that I had given in my VCS Essay Workshop class. In the assignment, I asked the students to write about a work of art or something from the art world that had inspired them. Gionna write about her internship at Dieu Donné and the strong effect it has had on her ideas about art and artmaking. The coincidence was too neat to pass by, so I asked her if she would allow me to post her writing alongside Amy’s images.
In addition to agreeing to share her piece on the blog, Gionna also walked me through the papermaking process, so that I would be able to describe what’s going on in the videos. Here’s a description, based on what she told me:
First, a paper mold is dipped into a vat of slurry, or a liquid mixture of water and paper pulp; this is known as pulling. The wet pulp is then transferred from the mold to a sheet of felt-like material called a pellon. This is known as couching the wet paper (the term is pronounced “kooching”). These first two steps can be seen in the videos below.
Once this is done, a wet pellon is placed on top of the newly formed sheet of paper; another sheet of wet paper can then be couched onto this pellon, lining up with the sheet below. Once several sheets are couched, the stack is transferred to a hydraulic press and excess water is pressed out of them. The sheets are then transferred to a drying system for 2 to 7 days. (You can see some of these other steps illustrated in the post from last year that’s linked in the first paragraph up above.)
Here is the piece that Gionna wrote for the essay workshop:
Art, for me, was never something I looked for or cared to see. I took art classes in high school because I enjoyed it, and I went to art school because I was good in art class. My first visit to a museum was my first year of college. I struggled in the beginning because I didn’t understand what art was supposed to be, or why some art was even art at all. I made drawings and paintings because I was asked to by my professors. It was not an uncontrollable thought of constant making and creating for me.
The summer after my first year in college I began to understand art in relation to my work; what I was making and why I was making it. As I got into the groove of art school I was thinking about art and wanting to make art, but I was thinking in code and I didn’t know how to decipher it. When I began my internship at Dieu Donné Papermill I slowly began to translate my thoughts.
Papermaking was a medium I never thought about before. It is a culture all its own with a language and a method. The process is laborious, yet gratifying. Creating a piece of paper can be as premeditated or spontaneous as the maker wishes. I guess it is similar to painting; one could be more like Seurat or like Pollock. The pulp dries on the makers’ hands, as does the paint of the painters’ hands. But the difference between the common art of painting and the less likely art of papermaking is that the paper maker always needs to make their own pulp. The artist is deeply involved in the process from start to finish and creates a work that can take any shape or form.
Dieu Donné encourages and helps artists to translate their work or way of working into the method of papermaking. Being there and watching artists do this on a daily basis was enough for me to discover this art on my own. As I began to experiment with papermaking I found pleasure in the process of papermaking, but more importantly, the idea rooted in it (as well as other processes) that one could make something out of another thing. I’ve explored knitting, weaving, sewing, ceramics and other methods of making and have found it very satisfying. It is craft, rather than art, but my focus is to take craft and merge it into fine art territory. For me it is the process of making a functional object, having it exist as art and being able to say, “I made it.”
Thanks again, Gionna.
Over the next few weeks, I will post more short writings from the essay workshop, as time permits.