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Up from the Attic: Papermaking at Women’s Studio Worksho

Winter 2018
Winter 2018
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Erin Zona is  Women's Studio Workshop Artistic Director. She received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2002. An archive of her work and collaborative projects can be viewed on her website, Anne Kalmbach has an MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology and a BFA from SUNY New Paltz. Ann has produced twenty artist books with her long-time collaborator Tatana Kellner under the acronym KaKe Art. Kalmbach addresses social justice issues in her work. She has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Col-ony, Visual Studies Workshop, University of Southern Maine, and internationally in Ireland and Germany. Kalmbach is a co-founder of Women's Studio Workshop and a founding member of the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium. Tana Kellner is a visual artist who works in installation, printmaking, handmade paper, photography, and artist books. She uses these media to explore the visual realm and comment on social and political issues. Kellner is the recipient of awards from the Puffin Foundation, the Pollock–Krasner Foundation, the New York Foun-dation for the Arts, Center for Photography at Woodstock, and Ruth Chenven Foun-dation. She has exhibited her work around the country and abroad. Kellner has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Banff Centre for the Arts, Light Work, Millay Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Artpark, Hes-sisches Landes Museum in Germany, and Bogliasco in Genoa, Italy. Women's Studio Workshop (WSW) was founded in 1974 by Barbara Leoff Burge, Ann Kalmbach, Tatana Kellner, and Anita Wetzel. Work-ing together as equals they sought to create space, place, and opportunity for women artists to engage and grow their work through print media, paper, drawing, and collage. At a time when there were few professional opportunities for women artists, the founders of WSW subverted this ex-clusivity by creating an alternative.

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WSW was formed as a non-hierarchical artist collective, in a time  (not unlike our own) in which the reasonable end result of a  graduate degree in the arts would be a teaching position. But what  if there were few opportunities for women in academia? What if  your teachers were uninterested in your work? What if the path to  success not only doesn't include you, but doesn't even imagine  you?   Rather than bend themselves to these limitations and find a place  in his place, the co-founders of WSW ignored the rules and  established their own veritable institution. For nearly forty-five  years now, WSW has been serving women-identified artists through  residencies, summer workshops, public art programming, teaching  opportunities, and an artist-book pub-lishing program. With an  unwavering dedication to the mission, resil-ience, and a stealthy  entrepreneurial spirit, WSW has made an impres-sive mark in the  contemporary history of print, paper, and book art.  Below is an edited interview from three recorded sessions that  took place in the spring of 2018 with WSW co-founders Ann Kalmbach  and Tatana "Tana" Kellner, followed by my reflections on a  selected WSW art-ist book project by Susan Mills that strongly  mirrors the feminist values and spirit of Women's Studio Workshop.  erin zona (ez): When you founded Women's Studio Workshop in 1974  did you model it on, or against, an existing institution? tatana kellner (tk): Against. ann kalmbach (ak): I wouldn't say on or against. In the very  begin-ning, working together with Barbara (Loeff Burge), we  created a situation that was completely outside any experiences  that we had ever had before. An experience that I can't imagine  existed else-where and so the thought was—what can we do to share  this power of working together as women, as peers, and as equals? It didn't matter that we were younger and Barbara was older. It  didn't matter that we were sort of students and sort of not. There  was no hierarchy. It was empowering. There wasn't an institution  that existed like that. Not one that we were aware of. Everyone  was engaged and taking full responsibility.  ez: Tana, you moved to Rosendale and met Barbara later after grad- uate school. Ann and Anita had already established a connection  with Barbara. When you came to Rosendale, what was your experi- ence? tk: At the beginning, Barbara was always seen as the guide. We  would brainstorm together. We would work on installation pieces as  a collective but she was the adult and we were the juniors. Anita  and Ann had a history and a certain way of working together, which  I wasn't part of. It took me a while. ak: She was an outsider and a new American. tk: I emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the US in 1969. At the  time, it was a communist country and I knew next to nothing about  life in the USA. Everything was new, exciting, and unreal. I was a  naive teenager. I didn't speak the language and there was a steep  learn-ing curve. From 1969 to '74 I was in college at the  University of Toledo in Ohio, followed immediately by graduate  school at Roch-ester Institute of Technology. I hoped I'd get a  college teaching job somewhere. There were almost no college  teaching jobs offered to women, so the idea of starting our own  place and living an alterna-tive life was something I wanted to  embrace. ez: Do you have a personal experience of empowerment like what Ann  describes? One where your intentions as an artist or the com- munity you wanted to live in became vivid and tangible. tk: For me, it was meeting Ann in graduate school. Someone who was  actually interested in what I was doing as an artist. The idea of  starting something new and creating our own community was  exciting. Options like that didn't exist in Czechoslovakia. I was  aware of historical precedents, such as Bauhaus, and a few other  utopian communities. At this time (1974) other communities/or- ganizations were being founded and I did feel that we were a part  of something larger. It was possible to start something on a shoe- string budget, and see what happens. I don't think we thought long  range, we just were doing something which we felt was needed.  In graduate school, I don't remember a single teacher taking any  interest in what I was doing. They were preoccupied with their careers, or simply checked out. It was a rude awakening, and a  fast way to mature. ak: When we were in graduate school, even when the teacher was  there, people lined up to talk to Tana. She had excellent  training, could direct students in their work from a technical  standpoint, and was always right! ez: So, the studio was founded in 1974 and being run out of a home  in central Rosendale. By 1979, the first paper studio was being  built in the attic. What was the catalyst to build a paper studio?  Also, why in the attic? tk: That was the only space left in the house! Etching was in the  living room. Litho in the dining room. Silkscreen was in the  basement. We made it work as best as we could. I spent much of my  time teaching with a mop in my hand. ak: We put rope in the cracks and we caulked over it and then we  put down linoleum and a lot of varnish. It drained into a hose  that went down through the walls into the basement into a plastic  garbage can that we had to manually sump pump out into the back  yard. ez: What was your first paper project? ak: The project was called Bicentennial Minutes. In 1976, on TV,  they would have all these little history featurettes called the  Bicentennial Minutes and they would show you some cornball history  thing like, you know, the cracking of the Liberty Bell. So, Tana  wanted to make cast TVs with contemporary images printed on them.  She wanted to cast them in handmade paper and that didn't work  because she just kept burning up blenders. tk: The project failed, but it was the impetus to start handmade  paper. ez: Tana, what was your personal interest in the CBS Bicentennial  Minutes? tk: I was new to this country. I didn't study American history in  school. From a European perspective, 200 years didn't seem like a  long time. Watching the daily Bicentennial Minutes made me ques- tion my understanding of history. Whose history? Whose truth? Each  society presents history from their point of view, without much,  if any, consideration for the "other." In Czechoslovakia, I was  taught that atheism and socialism/communism was the right path,  not that I believed all of what was propagandized. There it was a  complete inversion to the beliefs held by most Americans. History  is written by the victors, it is subjective and easily subverted.  The questioning of facts, "truth," and policy, in different  permutations have informed my artistic practice throughout my  career. ez: Why did you want to incorporate handmade paper for this proj- ect? Were there larger or conceptual implications that you  imagined the material and casting process would provide the series  of prints?  tk: At the time, I worked strictly two dimensionally. While seeing  the "Printmaking Biennial" at the Brooklyn Museum in 1976 (curated  by Barry Walker) I was immediately attracted to the pieces printed  on handmade paper. It was the first time I saw handmade paper and  I was very intrigued by the way it looked. As funny and  unsophisti-cated as it sounds now, I fell in love with the deckled  edge. As I was developing the Bicentennial Minutes series, many of the  artists in the biennial exhibition made paper with Douglass Howell  who had a studio on Long Island. First, I tried to simply make  hand-made paper from cut-up printmaking papers in the blender.  After many failed attempts, I gave up on the idea of casting the  TVs, but I was determined to find out how to make paper. It took  us three years to secure funding from the NEA and hire a  consultant to ad-vise us how to set up a papermaking studio. We  contacted Douglass Howell; he suggested Alexandra Soteriou, who  was not available, and this led us to Lynn Forgach. At the time  Lynn established a pa-permaking studio in a loft on Mercer Street  (in New York City) and was working with artists specializing in  cast paper. ez: When you bought and were renovating the building on Binnewa- ter Lane (the current WSW location\]), paper was obviously a major  focus at that point because you dedicated the entire ground floor  of the expansion to it. ak: When we first got started it was about learning the technology  and techniques, so we made lots and lots of paper, used various  kinds of dyes, pigments, and fibers. After a year we had a lot of  paper, so we decided to try to market it. We did an American Craft  Council show and sold well. The next ten years we made paper prod- ucts—handmade paper sheets, stationery, blank books bound with  decorative handmade paper, and even paper jewelry. At one point,  we had two shifts making products. But then we began to realize  that we had gone a bit off mission and focused on using our skills  as papermakers to support resident artists. When we moved to Bin- newater from the house, suddenly we had a lot of space but not the  funding to be able to support residencies. That took a few years  and it was in those years that we supported WSW by selling the  paper. We have always been conscious of having an income. Fund-ing was  always a challenge, especially for a woman's art organiza-tion.   NYSCA (New York State Council on the Arts) is a notable ex-ception  supporting us continually from the concept forward. ez: Ann, I have heard you speak about the founding of WSW as a  reaction to patriarchal society. Can you elaborate on the ways in  which you see patriarchal rule in our lives and in the world that  oth-ers may not see? ak: If you have never been in a culture that is an alternative  then you are in the patriarchy. Every single thing that we do in  our lives is controlled by the patriarchy. It's subtle, but it has  been the way of the world for thousands of years. The idea that  there could be another way of moving through time and space and  conflict and relation-ships is worthy of consideration. I realized  that WSW was operating in that sort of parallel world.  Maybe the luxury of working together in a small town where folks  generally either left us alone or were enthusiastic about having us around helped WSW because venturing out in the larger more  urban world where things seemed whacky, as in "really that guy ac- tually imagines what he is saying is interesting," that  mansplaining thing, or the kind of hierarchy that is so pervasive  in the business world. A hierarchy that is exaggerated today by  the huge pay gap between labor and management. WSW has always been  a place of labor. Artmaking is work and of greater value than  management. Since the patriarchy is really all about management  and control, we flipped that. It's the core of what we did, and I  believe why we have been successful. ez: I find it interesting to consider the self-empowerment an  artist can have working with handmade paper in comparison to the  larger implications of the founding of WSW. Admittedly, this is a  romanti-cism, but if what is best for your work and your artistic  practice does not already exist in the world, it can be an  opportunity; a way in which you can generate total control.  Through papermaking, one can opt out of patriarchal rule.  Commercial paper is material culture, paper is capitalism, paper  is policy. If the space, the material, the opportunity, and the  discussion doesn't exist for you and your work, build it. An  artist making paper is world building. Through the process, one  can make the art and the world the art will exist upon and within. tk: It is very empowering making something as amazing as paper.  It's about being in control and for that you need to acquire a  certain amount of knowledge to get the result you think you're  after as an artist. That's what we do at WSW: we give artists  those tools and let them experiment and find their own voice.  We're here to offer the technical know-how to realize their  vision.   When asked about a project that exemplifies the mission of Wom- en's Studio Workshop, I often turn to the artist book twentysix  plants by Susan Mills. Published by WSW in 2013, twentysix plants  is exactly as the title describes: twenty-six pages of paper,  handmade from twenty-six everyday plants grown or foraged at the  Women's Studio Workshop ArtFarm. The book was made to coincide  with the fiftieth-anniversary of the publication of Ed Rus-cha's  first artist book Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations. "Twentysix plants is the same book," says Mills, "except it is my  book, a different person and a different time." Susan Mills  studied conceptual art at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in  Halifax, Nova Scotia in the late 1970s. At that time, the school  held a large collection of artist books that students could check  out and take home. Susan describes being drawn to Ruscha's book  be-cause "The title states exactly what it is. I like the book as  a road trip book. He drove, he took the photos from a motorcycle,  in my mind at least, I don't know if he was on a motorcycle. He  made his book from nothing." In 1962, Ed Ruscha drove between Los Angeles and his home-town of  Oklahoma City photographing gasoline stations from the road. The  act of collecting content for the book, roadside, implies liberty,  autonomy, but also privilege with a pinch of bravado that can  easily be romanticized.   When asked why she wanted to make the book at WSW, Mills  responded, "I really think it is a feminist book." Production in- cluded "a lot of labor, the exact opposite of breezing along the  freeway and taking photographs." For twentysix plants, the actions of the artist and her dedi-cated  team sowing seeds, foraging for plants, and growing a book sheet  by sheet, is a self-empowered method of negotiating the American  landscape, just like Ruscha's travel and even the founding of  Women's Studio Workshop. "That's how I have been my whole life,"  says Mills, "having to make work out of my own backyard." The books are in collections worldwide, including nine insti- tutions that are repositories for all WSW publications—Indiana  University, Bloomington; Rochester Institute of Technology; Uni- versity of Delaware; Vassar College; Virginia Commonwealth  University; Yale University, University of Michigan, Library of  Congress; and Bucknell University—integrating voice and vision of  women artists into the cultural mainstream. Paper Sample: Women's Studio Workshop ArtFarm Kenaf Text by Chris Cutrone Kenaf was the first fiber I can remember having my hands on at  Women's Studio Workshop when I arrived in 2004 as a studio in- tern. It was the first plant I started from seed and processed  from start to finish. Kenaf withstands rocky soil and dry spells,  and has remained a WSW favorite for experimentation over the  years.  This paper sample was made from 100-percent kenaf grown at the WSW  ArtFarm. The kenaf was harvested in the fall of 2017 by Kingston  City High School students participating in our Hands on Art  Education Program through a course called Chemistry and Paper. In  the class, they learn the papermaking process from seed to sheet,  experimenting in a day-long workshop divided between har-vesting  fiber up at the farm and working in the studio, beating fiber and  pulling sheets. The kenaf was processed by Nicole Solis, a field-study student  from SUNY New Paltz. She steamed the stalks and stripped the bark  from the cores. Much of the time we like to leave the outer bark  on, which results in a darker brown paper with a speckle-tone  effect. This past year, we decided to split the stalks fifty- fifty, leaving the outer bark on one half and scraping the outer  bark from the other. This resulted in a warmer pink color, seen in  the sample here.   Once stripped and scraped the kenaf was cooked, beaten, and pulled  by studio intern Ashleigh Pillay. She cooked the kenaf for 3.5  hours with a soda-ash solution, left the fiber to soak in the pot  overnight, and then rinsed it thoroughly. We then beat 1.25 pounds  of fiber in a 2-pound Reina beater for 1 hour and 45 minutes  total. The first hour was spent loading and lowering the roll;  during the remaining time, we took the roll down to 2, and then to  0 for the final 5 minutes. We added internal sizing to the pulp,  and used a 22 x 30-inch deckle box to form the sheets onto Pellon  interfacing, and then pressed them on our vacuum table. We dried  the sheets between blotters in a restraint dryer.