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Historical, Social, and Artistic Implications of Collaboration in Contemporary Hand Papermaking

Summer 2019
Summer 2019
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Katharine Lark DeLamater graduated magna cum laude in studio art from Mount Holyoke College, where she studied hand papermaking, printmaking, and philosophy. Upon graduation, she received the Phyllis Walsh Crocker Memorial Scholarship award for scholastic excellence, excellent creativity, and innovation. She has interned at Dieu Donné, Pace Paper, and the Boston Paper Collective. DeLamater is an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, where she received an Iowa Arts Fellowship. Her work was featured in Hand Papermaking's Intergenerationality portfolio and in the inaugural Art and Literature Laboratory's Community Supported Art portfolio (Madison, Wisconsin).  This article is adapted from a presentation given by the author, entitled "Shared Authorship in Book Arts: Historic, Social, and Artistic Implications of Collaboration in Craft," at the 2018 joint conference of the Friends of Dard Hunter and the American Printing History Association, held at the Univer-sity of Iowa, in Iowa City, October 25–27, 2018. —Ed. Over the past five years, through internship and fellowship opportunities, I have worked at Dieu Donné and at Pace Paper, both in New York, and at the Oakdale Research Facility at the University of Iowa. Each has its own history, mission, and aesthetics; the opportunity to learn in these unique spaces has been deeply meaningful to me on both professional and personal levels. My interest in collaboration has grown as I have spent time with renowned collaborators Ruth Lingen, Paul Wong, Amy Jacobs, Lisa Haque, Tatiana Ginsberg, and Akemi Martin. Through osmosis, I have witnessed remarkable acts of collaboration firsthand. Time with these accomplished individuals has inspired me to study the history and current status of collaborative craft practices, particularly related to hand papermaking.

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Craftspeople have worked in teams for centuries because the pro-duction of their craft require it to make a living. In addition, a crafts-person's responsibilities extend beyond the manufacture of goods. They also consider the economics, aesthetics, and communication necessary to sustain their businesses. Institutions and studios developed to manage this complex operation. One example from Western culture is the Italian bottega, which dates back to the Renaissance. Bottega translates to "work-shop" and defines a space where an established artist would host and train artisans to support the production of the host artist's body of work.1 In this designated space, artisans acquired skills and experience to become future masters through an apprenticeship model, which likely informed the current internship model at print and paper studios today. Analysis of the spaces where collaborators gained initial training helps us to understand the evolutions of their practice and aesthetic sensibilities. We can trace the evolu-tion of master collaborators to their educational institutions. One shared by many is the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As we have seen with the Hand Papermaking Family Tree, it is fasci-nating to discover the intersections of artists' educations.2 These training grounds, especially when paired with educational institu-tions, become central to the evolution of creative practice. The profession of master collaborator, however, is a different path from work as a professor or museum educator (though not mutually exclusive). I define a master collaborator as a craftsper-son with exceptional experience in the technique of, in this case, hand papermaking, installed at a professional studio to foster relationships with emerging and established artists through the collaborative production of artworks and editions.  Collaborators must oversee the technical execution of the art-work, and also have a firm grasp of the conceptual motivations of the artist. This deep understanding allows them to best tailor their recommendations and contributions based on their broad experiences in the medium. On her experience as a master collab-orator at The Brodsky Center since 2001, Anne Q. McKeown ex-presses: "I have felt that there is a unique perspective from which a collaborator can see the breadth of a project." She continues, "It is like traveling on a train or maybe a hot air balloon, looking for-ward, looking back, all 360 degrees, pulling together memories and speculation. . . . I remember choices not made in past projects, I look for a possible fit with a new project."3 Artists and collaborators correspond over time to share their vocabularies, often through studio visits and hands-on experi-mentation. In certain cases, communication might rely on email, exchanges of samples and experiments, and involvement with third parties, like gallery representatives. Based on these consul-tations and preliminary discussions, collaborators may dive into their respective archives to reference didactics to guide the direc-tion of a project. Artist Lesley Dill, who has worked extensively with master collaborators and with other artists, writes, "At first it is like a blind date. Not just a blind date with the friendly first meeting . . . but . . . a Meeting of Unknowingness of the width and depth of the creative psyches of all concerned. What skills, what ideas? It is important to be open, poignant, and risky with the initial imagination.4 To Dill's point, in order to form a successful collaboration, both parties must be willing to be vulnerable. Each partner should arrive at the collaboration with an openness to possibility, to risks, to failure, and to differences in practice. This vulnerability comes with the reassurance of partnership. Both the artist and collabora-tor have committed to embark on this endeavor together, rather than alone. Artists seek professional collaborators (and vice versa) to continue to challenge their practices and techniques while they also maintain a mutual respect for one another's experiences, aesthetics, and goals. As Anne McKeown notes, "Luckily there is trust in collaboration. Knowledge, time, and trust are important elements in collaborative work."5 Each partner should feel comfortable to clearly share intu-itions and communicate them in a clear, intentional way. A collab-oration flourishes when both the artist and the collaborator share a deep interpersonal ability to read the needs of others, anticipate their requests, and know at what point to push the envelope just a bit further. Partners in collaboration must be empathetic, flex-ible, reflective, and considerate. On this relationship, Lesley Dill notes, "The development of a trusting rapport has to happen for the ‘yesses' in the artwork to emerge."6 Professional collaboration is a multi-faceted and nuanced ap-proach to communication and craft that requires constant main-tenance, reflection, and revision, just like any other personal relationship that we foster over time. During my internships, I learned much in the observation of techniques and mastery of foundational craft skills. I also learned about studio management as I watched master collaborators weigh decisions and navigate unforeseen circumstances, all while remaining focused on the success of the artwork and those around them. These intense, immersive experiences have led me to understand that master collaborators are deeply intelligent, intuitive, observant artists and communicators who viscerally understand the importance of tone and gesture. To dedicate one's career to the pursuit of refin-ing these traits, while also aiding in the creation of extraordinary artworks, is a profoundly generous act. This interpersonal exchange is also a shared act of transforma-tion that affects each individual in the collaboration. The same can be said of the complex relationship between papermaker and fi-ber, the core collaboration in hand papermaking. Fiber is naturally occurring, living matter. Papermakers are aware that the engage-ment with fiber, to turn it into paper, is a collaboration in and of itself. Flexibility and reliance on something outside of  ourselves directly informs our understanding that we cannot do this alone. We might also consider collaboration in hand papermaking as an act of translation. The collaborator assists artists in the transla-tion of their conceptual and aesthetic goals from one medium to another. Translation is, of course, easier when assisted by a flu-ent practitioner, which in this case, is the master collaborator. I define translation in this sense as an intentional decision to make known in a different format. As a research assistant at the Oakdale Paper Facility at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, I have had the opportu-nity to work closely with the historic practices that involve team-work which inform the processes at contemporary papermaking studios. There is the human desire for success, not only for the individual but the team. It is a humbling experience to be remind-ed of the physical limits of our body and the need for the help of others. There are also limitations on what an individual can dis-cover on their own in a lifetime, which provides an argument for the importance of archiving development in craft. "In a sense, we are all collaborating with papermakers gone before us," says Tim Barrett. "Our work builds on theirs; we stand on their shoulders. To what extent one wishes to collaborate or get into a dialogue with historical papermakers depends a lot on whether or not you are drawn to their papers. Except in rare cases, they didn't write down much of anything about their materials or procedures. So, the papers they left us are encoded messages and we are left to puzzle out how they accomplished what they did. If you are a papermaker you already know part of the code; how to read the paper you are intrigued with. Sometimes transmitted or raking light helps, or feeling and even smelling the sheet. Or listening to it as it is moved gently in the hands. Regardless of the nature of your direction in papermaking, collaborating with those who've left their beguiling creations behind is well worth considering."7 This collaborative partnership with historical craft continues to nourish the evolution of our discipline. Even the smallest glim-mers of insight into historical production or problem solving can inform contemporary papermaking practice and discourse. Artist Eleanna Anagnos's involvement at the Oakdale Research Facility is a strong example of combining historical practice and contem-porary experimentation.   A Grant Wood Painting Fellow at the University of Iowa, El-eanna Anagnos, describes the transition in her painting practice when she adopted paper as a medium in response to techni-cal considerations: "I have been using Hydrocal (a gypsum ce-ment similar to plaster) as a primary medium for almost a de-cade. . . . I began making larger work only to find \[that\] I could not lift my own paintings. They were too heavy! . . . My research led me to a recipe using toilet paper in a mix of other household mate-rials. The medium is lightweight, clay like, and can be molded, dyed or painted."8 As a visiting assistant professor at the Univer-sity of Tennessee–Knoxville in 2017, Anagnos was introduced to the Hollander beater and rag pulp by Althea Murphy-Price and Tatiana Potts. Now, at the University of Iowa, Anagnos has been consulting with Tim Barrett and learning about historical Chan-cery paper production, all the while continuing her professional artistic practice. Anagnos speaks of her experience with paper-making as both vexing and fascinating. In both historical produc-tion and contemporary artistic work, a sense of humor helps to weather the unpredictability of handmade paper.  While papermakers' lives have been devoted to trying to con-trol the craft, there is much to be learned in the practice of relin-quishing control and accepting the media for what it presents. Anne McKeown writes, "I know how paper acted in past proj-ects. I have a good idea about what others are doing in handmade paper. My suggestions come from understanding the fiber itself, and working with paper's internal identity. This is different from projecting an idea on the fiber."9 As an example, an artist might work primarily in wax, which holds light much differently than a sheet of paper. However, the collaborator knows in their toolkit which fibers might best capture a similar quality of transmitted light. In another example, with a less dramatic shift in media, it is not a simple task to match colors between seemingly related materials, such as ink mixed from a Pantone guide, dabbed onto watercolor paper, and pigmented paper fiber. Handmade paper simply holds color differently. The collaborator must select from their mental archive to make suggestions to preserve certain qual-ities of the original medium to the best of their ability. McKeown describes, "With knowledge of the intent of the artist with whom I work, I make samples of what I see as solutions. Paper must dry! Drying time allows an opportunity to look at solutions after discussion is hours or days past. It is a way that the solution can be observed with freshness."10 It is in the interval—the time when fiber becomes pulp and then becomes paper—where the magic happens; where the transformation occurs between fiber, between col-laborators, between ideas, between the practice present and past. Projects like Hand Papermaking's Intergenerationality portfolio (2017) highlight the importance of remaining connected with hand papermak-ers who have come before us and will come after us. I came to under-stand another aspect of collaboration when working on a piece for the portfolio with artist Melissa Jay Craig. While I had often seen artists come through the studios in New York, I had not gotten to experience first hand the "drawing board" stage of collaboration—where a table is littered with notes and color swatches and experiments from previous projects. Melissa and I worked together to create a piece that we felt equally represented each of our artistic viewpoints. The breadth of Melissa's ex-perience included sculptural papermaking with kozo bark lace which we combined with my developing interest in printmaking with natural dyes. From the beginning, we recognized that the work would be one of shared authorship in which we would be given equal representation on attribu-tions such as object labels and portfolio documentation. For collaborations that take place in studios such as Dieu Donné and Pace Paper, the authorship resides with the artist. Generally, the artist enters into the collaboration with the intention to create work specifically in the medium of handmade paper in which they typically have little to no experience. The master collaborator provides insight into the techni-cal possibilities, offers aesthetic support, and manages production. They may produce samples and prototypes for artist approval and oversee or participate in the production of the project, all the while sharing their depth of experience and expertise developed from working with a wide array of artists over time.  Artists enter this collaborative arrangement with the knowledge  that they are the leader of this artistic endeavor, while gratefully accept-ing the contributions of the master collaborator. If this relationship lacked clear boundaries, the artist might feel uncertain about pursuing a relationship in which their work may be susceptible to unfore-seen intervention. The relationship works because the collabo-rator understands and respects the agreed-upon boundaries of  creative authorship. Contracts and institutional administrators can help to man-age these parameters so that artists and collaborators can focus on their desire to work and learn from one another and create the best possible project. While some may feel that discussion of these nuts-and-bolts details detract attention from the artistic work at hand, the definition of clear expectations provides scaf-folding that supports collaborative efforts. Professional collaboration offers a means for a papermaker to be deeply involved with their craft,  and remain engaged with the art world, while they continue to work behind the scenes. The distance from the spotlight may actually be what draws some to-wards the role of collaborator. This tendency towards modesty could explain why collaborators often remain a silent partner.  It is my belief that papermaker-collaborators should be rec-ognized for their critical contributions in an artist's collaborative project by dealers, special collections, historians, and museums. Clear representation of collaborators acknowledges the dialogue and unique conditions under which a particular project attributed to an artist is realized. Transparency about collaboration speaks to the real generative power of working together, in art, and, for that matter, in all aspects of life. The author wishes to acknowledge the support of the University of Iowa Graduate College, which funded the author's 2018 summer re-search fellowship in New York interviewing artists and collaborators. The author would also like to thank the following individuals for their support of this project and willingness to discuss their experiences: Sue Gosin, Tatiana Ginsberg, Amy Jacobs, Ruth Lingen, Akemi Martin, Kat Savage, Chuck Webster, Rachel Gladfelter, Lesley Dill, Anne Q. McKeown, Paul Wong, Tim Barrett, Eleanna Anagnos.   NOTES 1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Bottega," https://www.merriam-webster .com/dictionary/bottega (accessed January 31, 2019). 2. Hand Papermaking Community, "The Online Resource for the Hand Papermaking Community Documentation Project," (accessed January 31, 2019). 3. Anne Q. McKeown, email message to the author, January 6, 2019. 4. Lesley Dill, email message to the author, December 18, 2018. 5. Anne Q. McKeown, email message to the author, January 6, 2019. 6. Lesley Dill, email message to the author, December 18, 2018. 7. Timothy Barrett, email message to the author, December 17, 2018. 8. Eleanna Anagnos, email message to the author, December 21, 2018. 9. Anne Q. McKeown, email message to the author, January 6, 2019. 10. Anne Q. McKeown, email message to the author, January 6, 2019.