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Artists' Communities

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  • Jill Littlewood
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2008
      Published in Hand Papermaking, Summer 2008


      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.

      Jill Littlewood

      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

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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