Published in Hand Papermaking, Summer 2008
COMMUNITIES FOR PAPER ARTISTS
When I visit my favorite coffee shop, Reds, I pass a faded bit of stencil
art by the front door that says, "Art is Hard, and Then You Die." The first
time I saw it I almost cried - it had been a bad week. Now I smile
ruefully: things have gotten better.
Making art is hard. And besides the usual problems that no one knows what
you are doing, or cares, besides the millions of technical snafus possible
in each endeavor, there is the sheer loneliness most artists have because
they work in solitude. Being alone is good for following your muse; it is
bad when you look up after hours of hard work and no one is there.
Occasionally I will get a call from someone who wants me to rescue an
artist who is despondent. Usually a few years out of art school, the artist
has done all the right things: exhibited in shows, compiled a decent resume,
sent their images to galleries, read the books on self-merchandising. What
school didn't prepare them for was life on the outside - how could it? In
schools everything is set up for you: the studio space is rented, the rooms
are lit and heated, assignments are given and work expected, critiques
frequent, friends and faculty come to your openings. The community is built
in. If you show up and work, you are part of a world where everyone
understands what being an artist is.
The day after graduation all that is gone - poof! You may keep up with a
few friends but nothing else is the same, and no one is waiting for your
work. And what is your work anyway? Where is your community? How will you
find facilities to make art? These questions can also be asked of those who
never could afford the time or money to go to Art School - those who, for
example, wanted to develop their interest in art once their kids were grown
and they had time for personal pursuits.
This is where community art groups come in. Inevitably the artists I am
supposed to help have never heard of the local guilds and groups; if they
have, they dismissed them while seeking attention from the gallery world.
But for every artist given encouragement by galleries, dozens are supported
by community arts groups. And while every art practice has a national guild,
it is the intimacy of local groups that can keep an artist from giving up:
this is where people in the arts meet and celebrate their work and their
In 1988 Eve Reid founded the Handmade Paper Guild of Southwest Michigan. It
started because Eve was teaching papermaking and she and her students wanted
to share ideas and socialize beyond the classroom. The group, originally 12
members, met before class and began a series of successful endeavors:
monthly meetings with lectures, demonstrations, or guest artists; an annual
show of members' work; field trips; help for exhibiting (how to mount, mat
and photograph work; how to write resumes and artists' statements); a
newsletter; a Christmas sale; a day of trading or selling art equipment;
collaborations with other artists like calligraphers and book artists. The
Guild also discovered ways to be visible in the community: it offers a
scholarship each year for the papermaking class, it gives a subscription of
Hand Papermaking to the library of Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and it gives
an award to the Southwest Michigan Area Show for work on or of paper.
In the beginning Eve did much of the work herself, including organizing and
hosting monthly meetings and writing the newsletter. Now the Guild has a
treasurer, secretary, hospitality person and newsletter editor. In addition
to giving Eve a break after years of service, this gives members a way to
invest themselves in the group and create its future.
For Winnie Radolan, The Guild of Papermakers, which she founded, serves many
of the same functions. Like Eve, her group evolved from the wish to continue
meeting outside classroom situations. Unlike the Kalamazoo Guild however,
this guild has far-flung members. For example, Tom Bennick of Idaho can tell
you how much the Guild means to him since there are so few papermakers close
to where he lives. However, most of the 70 odd members live close to
Philadelphia and get together for meetings and exhibitions.
Winnie directed the first meeting and then found herself doing it again and
again - she finds she is a good catalyst for keeping the group together.
She likes the dynamic to be informal, so there are no elections, bylaws or
regular meetings: Winnie calls a meeting whenever she has the time and
energy. When it comes to shows if she doesn't have a lead she says, "If you
want a show, get a show group together." Exhibiting in colleges and art
centers is good for member's resumes, but the real benefit of these regular
exhibitions is the way every level of interest can be encouraged and the
growth of individual members can be highlighted.
In keeping with Winnie's relaxed and inclusive personality, she asked
members if they wanted to write about the Guild in answer to my query about
their group. Their responses echo much of what I have said here - they
treasure the stimulation, the connections, the team work, the wealth of
technical knowledge that is freely shared, and, for one member, the
connections outside graduate school.
While local groups are the intimate face of connection, there is valuable
cross-pollination in seeing what papermakers in other parts of the world are
doing. The Friends of Dard Hunter and the International Association of Hand
Papermakers and Paper Artists are two groups that give a papermaker national
and international connections. Each organization hosts conferences that
bring paper lovers together for a rich crossover.
By far and away the most radical change in the way artists contact each
other has come through the internet. Not only is organizing local groups
easier but many new groups have been created and flourish because voices can
chime in from all over the globe. Papermaking, a Yahoo group with 1500
members, is an extraordinary example. Papermakers from Australia chat with
those in England and their conversation is read in America. A group in
India asks for help starting a paper business and gets connected to people
with useful suggestions. Members ask and give sophisticated technical
advice and all of it is archived so a newcomer can get this wealth of
knowledge by perusing the collected exchanges. In addition, there are photo
books of individual work and of
group-sponsored exchanges: samples of plant papers, paper bowls, and
Christmas ornaments. There is even a zine that the members create
periodically by submitting their pages and paper samples.
The Friends of Dard Hunter has a Yahoo group that has the same feeling of
collegial camaraderie, though in numbers it is much smaller. Also on Yahoo
is a group called Hollander Beaters, with 500 members. The Book Arts List
Serv, hosted by Peter Verheyen, is a rich source of information for book and
paper artists. Any one of these might have a posting mentioning a YouTube
video about papermaking, or an announcement that the latest issue of the
Bonefolder or Umbrella are up on a website. A general search for information
on papermaking gets you a list of 2,590,000 hits in a few seconds: this is
the internet at its best, connecting and informing at the speed of light.
Times have never been so good for artists to find their communities, in
their neighborhoods and around the world.
VP Annual Meetings for the Friends of Dard Hunter, Inc.
435 E. Pedregosa
Santa Barbara, CA, 93103
(805) 898-9260 (home)
(805) 448-2045 (cell)
(805) 898-0703 (fax)
Kona, Hawaii, October 23 -26, 2008
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