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update from Jill

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  • Jill Littlewood
    Hi everyone, update time. I hardly had time to catch my breath after my trip to Korea - where I presented talks and art to an international audience of hand
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2010
      Hi everyone, update time.

      I hardly had time to catch my breath after my trip to Korea - where I
      presented talks and art to an international audience of hand papermakers -
      when it was time to get into high gear for the annual meeting of the Friends
      of Dard Hunter, which is the American organization of hand papermaking. I
      am president of this group, and it was my idea that we go to Arrowmont
      School of Arts and Crafts for our conference this year. Because of the
      nature of the place, with huge workshop areas and the most unbelievable
      amount of equipment in all art fields, we added on days of workshops as well
      as doing a conference with lectures and demonstrations. In terms of work, it
      was equivalent to doing two conferences. But many people felt it was the
      best conference ever presented in the 30 year history of the Friends. Better
      yet, I'm still standing.

      I knew I had to open the conference with a welcome speech and it kept
      me from sleeping the night before I was to give it. Finally it came to me.
      But first you need to know a bit of back story about Gatlinburg, Tennessee,
      where we were. It is on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain national park,
      and it would be hard to find food there that did not include cotton candy,
      corndogs, or biscuits and gravy. There are wax museums, a Ripley's Believe
      It or Not Aquarium, and Dollywood is nearby. You can get several different
      versions of bikinis made with confederate flags - the crossing lines in
      strategic places - and there are two Harley Davidson megastores within 6
      miles of each other. Ginormous RV's wind their way up tiny mountain
      passages, with miles of frustrated cars in their wake.

      In this environment, Arrowmont is like Hogwarts, and you need to have
      faith to find the entrance. Amid all the garish signage is a tiny wooden
      sign that says where to turn and find the magic. It is an oasis of beauty
      and sanity that for a century has kept hand culture alive. It was started by
      a woman's sorority to teach women of the mountains weaving and basketry;
      more recently it teaches students of all ages and incomes. Arrowmont is a
      campus with dorms and a dining hall in addition to the workshop spaces, and
      when I checked in and asked for the room key the lady helping me shrugged
      and said nothing is locked - they have never had a theft. Sure enough, for
      days I saw purses, cameras, laptops, and cell phones lying around unattended
      but seemingly secure. The muggles couldn't find the opening even though we
      were close enough to hear the roar of the Harley's go by.

      Our keynote speaker was a tiny Frenchman with a huge beard and a beret
      who came to tell us about the giant wooden stamper he has just competed in
      his little town in France. A stamper is the original paper pulper: imagine
      huge wooden hammers turned by a waterwheel to pound rags into pulp - hence
      the term "rag paper". Jacques Brejoux had been brought by Tim Barrett, the
      first president of the Friends, who just last year won the McArthur genius
      award for his work in paper. He is the go-to man if you have to have
      someone work on the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. With
      this audience, I was feeling a bit nervous about what to say. I prefaced it
      by saying we would be hearing about paper for the next few days, but I
      wanted to talk about us as a community. Here is what I said:

      In 1969 my mother started a commune in Carmel Valley, California. She
      bought 50 acres of land from a denist named - I kid you not - Dr. Nodo. It
      had one structure on it, a concrete block one-room schoolhouse with dark
      slate blackboards on three walls in the main room. The first year she was
      there 25 people a day came through, but that tapered off and eventually the
      traffic became smaller and finally a few of the seekers of that time decided
      to stay. They built houses called Toad Hall, The Mushroom Dwelling, and the
      Tree House - you get the picture. None of these houses had septic tanks,
      and it took a case of hoof and mouth disease to convince some people that
      hot water and soap were not a bourgeois conspiracy against being "natural".
      Things eventually sorted themselves out and after a few years the commune
      was pretty settled.

      My mom charged a dollar per person per day to live there but the mainstay of
      their economy was based on barter, growing marijuana, and harvesting
      psychedelics. I was in college when my mom started this and I would visit
      on vacations. I liked some of the freedoms - clothing was optional - but I
      never felt comfortable with the overall shambles of the place. I didn't
      like that if the front door swelled and stuck people just used the side
      door. I didn't smoke dope or do acid and was not amused by conversations
      others found profound or hilarious. I was not attracted to what people made
      with their hands - they were mostly interested in things to sell quickly and
      no one had sustained patience or discipline to devote to the deeper
      practices of art and music. Everything was for the moment, and being
      anti-traditional was a pervasive current of energy.

      The one thing I did like was that this whole idea was an attempt to create
      something outside the insistent commercial culture. My mom's place in Carmel
      Valley was an hour's drive inland from Carmel, which is a precious tourist
      town by the sea with expensive stores and hotels. It is so chi-chi that it
      voted to ban ice cream eating in parks and on city sidewalks because the
      drips and spills were too messy. You can see there was a bit of contrast
      between Carmel and the values of the commune.

      The other thing I liked was that my mother had named her place "Water
      Brothers', after a science fiction book in which giving and sharing water
      becomes a deep bond. As shabby and weird as her place was, I finally
      realized that what her goal was was to create a gift culture.

      We are a gift culture. Just last night we had a gift from Lynn Forgache
      though she died years ago: her husband sponsors our keynote speakers in her
      name. All week I have been witnessing acts of generosity, and all year I
      have been privy to what the members of the Executive Council do to bring you
      this conference. Cecile Webster, our treasurer, had a flood in her house
      this summer that made book keeping a much bigger chore, but she kept on
      doing the complicated finances necessary to get us all here. Brian Queen
      has a full time job and does all the work as Vice President of the Annual
      Meetings in the time he could be spending with his family and friends, or
      just having fun. We have all been amazed at his keepsake contributions over
      the years, and the only reason we don't have one from him this year is
      because he burned up his $7,000 laser cutter while he was making us
      keepsakes. Yongsook Kim has a hectic teaching schedule and was a keynote
      speaker just before she came here from Korea, but she came a day early so
      she would be able to set things up for her students. Catherine Nash got a
      grant for supplies she could give to her students. She, Yongsook Kim, Jim
      Croft, Shannon Brock and other teachers asked to have the buildings opened
      at 7AM instead of 8 AM so they could spend time setting up for you - this
      after taking time in the evenings to get ready. Betsy Dollar rented a van to
      bring her compressor and all her gear for pulp spraying; it will cost her
      more than she is making in teaching salary. In other words, she is paying
      for the privilege of teaching.

      A few months ago, I asked Robert Possehl if he would help with Publicity and
      Outreach and he said yes. He has driven here in order to get to know the
      Friends better, and he doesn't know how he will pay for the gas to get back
      to Oklahoma. Jim Croft drove more than 40 hours and slept sitting up in the
      driver's seat of his car so he could come. Sally Rose, who does the
      member's CD every year, watches for sales on CD's all the time and this year
      she burned 200 copies so each of us could have one. David Reina has been
      working for weeks to develop a low-cost Hollander Beater, and he drove all
      night from New York to get here to teach. I am spending more than $1,000
      for my air fare, room and meals for the 10 days of solid work it takes to
      pull this conference off, in addition to the hours I spend each week on work
      for the Friends. Peter Thomas is here even though he would like to be with
      his family as his first grandchild comes into the world. Paul Denhoed, who
      does such a beautiful job editing the Bull & Branch, would love to come to
      the conferences but it is too expensive for him to fly from Japan. He gives
      his gifts long distance without getting the perks of being with us; I know
      he feels isolated but he keeps on helping.

      And so it goes. We are rich in community if poor in pocket. In this space
      at Arrowmont, which honors and supports people like us who work with
      patience and care, we feel nurtured. Walk out that driveway into town and
      not a shred of that feeling survives. Like Carmel and Carmel Valley, this
      is an oasis where commerce of the crass kind is kept at bay and we come
      together in gift culture. For the next two days we will be given the
      greatest gifts by our speakers and demonstrators. If you, personally, can't
      give back to this community, take the energy from here and "pay it forward".
      The gift must always move.

      Jill Littlewood

      President, Friends of Dard Hunter

      October 22, 2010

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