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Young Papermakers Today: Three Profiles

Summer 2016
Summer 2016
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Aimee Lee is an artist, papermaker, writer, and the leading hanji researcher and practitioner in the United States. Her Fulbright research on Korean paper led to her award-winning book, Hanji Unfurled, and the first North American hanji studio at Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has served as artist in residence. She has taught and lectured from coast to coast, Canada, Korea, and Northern Ireland and has been featured in two hanji documentaries by the Korean Craft and Design Foundation. Her artwork resides in collections worldwide and is available to view alongside hanji videos and research images at In my work promoting hand papermaking traditions in an age of explosive digital-media consumption, I often wonder how people become papermakers. My own mentors were self taught or learned from the vanguard of the US hand papermaking revival. They experimented in bathtubs and traveled the world to find teachers and information, and then distributed their research through books, articles, and private-press publications. To nurture networks, they founded guilds and organizations, and many worked tirelessly to create a foothold for papermaking in academia. Today's students have a wide range of learning opportunities including workshops, undergraduate and graduate programs, apprenticeships, internships, and online learning. I interviewed three papermakers, 30 or under at the time of publication, to discover how paper became the center of their careers.

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Before studying painting and printmaking at the University of Connecticut, May Babcock1 grew up amidst plants with gardening parents. She attended Louisiana State University for her MFA, attracted by their large-format printmaking facilities. The studio housed papermaking equipment where she met a sculpture grad student, Megan Singleton, who introduced her to papermaking. They made collaborative woodcuts and Babcock continued to experiment, incorporating local fibers, pulp painting, and watermarks, eventually making 4 x 8-foot paper for woodcut, silkscreen, and monotype prints. Interested in the local terrain and the fading, industrial, sugar-cane economy, she sourced bagasse from a remaining processing plant for her thesis. Using the landscape as a matrix to take impressions, she cast paper into levees and created hanging installations. After graduation, Babcock bought a Critter and moved it to Rhode Island in 2012. Now she works in a basement studio and backyard, with a sink, a 15 x 20-inch book press, and a half-pound Noble & Wood lab beater, perfect for preparing her palette of colored pulps Young Papermakers Today: Three Profiles aimee lee . Kelsey Pike loads the Oracle beater at the Kansas City Art Institute in preparation for teaching, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. May Babcock in her Rhode Island papermaking studio, with Hollander beaters and Boca the dog. Photo: Trailing Twine Photography, 2015. Radha Pandey demonstrates the process of couching a sheet of paper with a chapri while teaching an Islamic papermaking class at the Morgan Conservatory. Photo: Aimee Lee, 2015. summer 2016 - 15 for painting. She obtained materials for a simple stack dryer and her fiancé built deckle boxes. Eventually she hopes to find a bigger, more accessible studio space with floor drains. Part of the Facebook generation, Babcock was frustrated by the difficulty of finding papermaking information online. This drove her to make, an online resource combining the best of social media. It includes tutorials, blog posts, links, and an impressive mapping project—a world map pinned with papermaking studios, workshops, museums, and artists.2 Pins increase daily. Babcock set up this map as a wiki so that information is crowd sourced, instead of being a static list maintained by one person or elite experts who eventually move on and forget to update it. She is modernizing the way that papermakers can generate and access resources. Even if their craft is centuries old, they can find and share information at speeds now possible through constantly evolving Web technology. The Web and books provide first access for many beginners. Once they are ready for a deeper experience, they can search the map for local resources. Community projects such as Combat Paper, Peace Paper, and Mobile Mill physically bring papermaking to public places, reaching new audiences and creating demand. Papermaking studios are housed in a variety of departments at academic institutions, so it can be hard to locate them, but Paperslurry connects her with well-traveled papermakers like Drew Matott who know where beaters live, even in schools with no official papermaking program. Though websites and online forums can pique interest and help make connections, Babcock believes that the best way to learn is to work with a teacher: "To learn a craft, having a person next to you is ideal." Despite economic recession and attrition affecting academia, she hopes that papermaking can grow and thrive at the university level, an environment conducive for concentrated, hands-on learning. She also highly recommends conferences to meet other papermakers. As vice president of communications for the Friends of Dard Hunter (FDH), she has transformed Bull & Branch with smart, new ideas from her experience in business, marketing, and graphic design. Artistically Babcock is compelled by paper's ability to carry context and content through the very materials that form it. This time-tested technology encourages people to slow down and use holistic techniques to transform materials usually deemed waste or scraps into new, positive work. Her life goal is to promote the field through teaching and sharing resources, showing how a sheet of paper can turn into just about anything. A Kansas City native, Kelsey Pike3 grew up swimming before studying printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). In her sophomore year she learned to make paper from Tracy Krumm and loved it from day one, becoming a regular fixture in the basement studio, equipped only with a hydropulper and book press. Her independent study that followed resulted in a body of work connecting paper and print. Afterwards, she became the studio tech. Advised to pursue an MFA in book and paper arts, she opted to stay in Kansas City and start a business. Upon earning her BFA in 2011, she asked friends and family to help buy a Mark Lander Critter as a graduation gift. She set up studio in her parents' garage with her beater and hydraulic press, and her father helped build moulds, deckles, and other equipment. Now she works for KCAI's continuing education department, teaching papermaking, bookbinding, and printing while managing supply and equipment needs. She plans to move her studio to Maker Village KC as soon as they open their rehabbed warehouse space. Pike's business, Sustainable Paper+Craft, began as an Etsy shop carrying paper, cards, envelopes, and sketchbooks. She noticed seed bombs gaining popularity and used molds from a previous installation to cast doll faces out of end batches, creating Sprouting Seed Faces. They sold well at a craft fair, so she added them to her shop. Demand is now so high that an assistant makes full batches with shredded office paper while she focuses on making paper for printmakers, artists, and other clients. Her sister, a quilter, arranged for a local quilt guild to donate fabric scraps that produce excellent paper for block printing. Pike reads voraciously to troubleshoot; Dard Hunter's illustrated books are especially useful for equipment construction. Though finding truly helpful information online can be difficult, she highlighted Timothy Barrett's Chancery Papermaking video4 and Paperslurry as good resources. To see how other paper studios set up their spaces, she follows them online or learns from site visits. She is on the Yahoo! papermaking group, and has been asked to start a Friends of Dard Hunter (FDH) Instagram page. Over 1,000 people follow her online and contact her with questions. Because the average library lacks quality papermaking books, the Web is the biggest gateway for initial exposure, though she believes that the best way to learn is by working with your hands. As she puts it, "The learning happens from the doing." Pike often considers the best way to introduce people to papermaking. "I'm torn about using blender paper," she admits. "While it may spur someone to learn how to make better paper, it may also steer people away from valuing handmade paper." She wants to see more papermaking taught to children to raise awareness early, and she would like to counteract common misunderstandings about paper through teaching. Invested in her hometown, she aims to make hand papermaking part of the Kansas City community by growing her business into something bigger than herself. When Radha Pandey5 was five, her mother returned from a trip to Japan with a gift of assorted decorative papers. She fell in love with these lightweight, textured, and translucent papers, unlike anything she had seen in India. Wanting to make paper herself, she tore up newspaper, blended it, passed it through a sieve, and made grey circles. Though it disappointingly did not resemble washi, the process fascinated her and she continued to make recycled papers with a middle-school friend. She visited paper mills all over India and collected handmade paper for years. In college, Pandey studied graphic design, but was bored by sitting in front of a computer. When she was 18, her name was literally pulled out of a hat for a fellowship to study at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Catherine Nash taught a Japanese papermaking class, and that experience opened up a new way of envisioning the future. Back in India, her college required an internship, typically at a graphic design firm. Instead, she found Auroville Papers, a paper mill on India's southern coast, where she made paper, bound books, and developed her thesis, a stop-motion animation of wireembedded paper. Operated by two French people, Auroville accentuated paper's aesthetic qualities, hired mostly local women, and had a different work model from most Indian mills. What began as a one-month internship stretched to six. She continues to visit each year to help develop new product designs. After graduation, Pandey started a graphic design company with the aim of saving money for a return US trip. To learn bookbinding, she studied with Patricia Johnson of Still Water Bindery in Vermont. Not yet sated, she returned to India to save for a longer trip to study with Béatrice Coron at Haystack and to intern at Cave Paper under Bridget O'Malley. She studied with Asao Shimura in the Philippines, where she fetched buckets of water up and down hills of a remote village and learned to transform paper into cloth. Because she wanted to visit Japan, Shimura recommended that she meet Barrett. At the 2010 FDH meeting, she met Barrett who recommended that she build a foundation before going to Japan. In 2011 she joined the first cohort of MFA students at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. Pandey acknowledges, "I met the right people at the right time," each person opening new doors. Now she is a leading scholar of Islamic-world papermaking, an important link between Asian and European traditions. She takes at least one workshop a year and finds it immeasurably valuable to learn similar techniques from Kelsey Pike, Make It, 2015, 14 x 11 inches, linoleum block print and hand marbling with acrylics on handmade cotton paper. Courtesy of the artist. summer 2016 - 17 different people, preferring in-person learning to online study. "It defeats the purpose if you learn a craft online. You can only get so good, and you can never excel without someone there to watch your mistakes." India's deep and rich history of craft traditions includes paper, which Pandey wants to revive for future papermakers. Her longterm goal is to build a space to teach book and paper arts in India, so fellow Indians will not have to travel abroad to access learning opportunities. The American paper community's openness and generosity motivates her to share research at conferences, write articles, serve on committees,6 and pay it forward. Seven months after graduation, she was hired to run the papermaking studio, letterpress shop, and bindery at Morgan Conservatory and to serve as lead production papermaker. She is inspired by the process and labor of recreating chapri papermaking screens from bamboo splints and creating animated watermarks. Pandey feels that papermaking's endless challenges guarantee her a lifetime in the field. I began my research for this article eager to learn about new developments in the papermaking landscape from younger papermakers. In my interviews with these three bright, committed, new practitioners, they demonstrated that no matter the advances in communication technology, the same rules apply: you have to know the right people to find the right things in the right places. Their contributions to the field are varied, from setting up a comprehensive website to owning a business to working for a paper studio. Though they all benefitted from academic papermaking resources, they have also invested countless studio hours, scoured print and online resources, and most importantly, interfaced with other papermakers to find their place in the constellation of the next generation. Each of them balances solo time at the vat with ongoing relationships with local and international communities. The future of papermaking is in capable and passionate hands. ___________ notes 1. Profile is based on phone interview by the author, June 27, 2015. For more information about Babcock, go to and http://paperslurry .com (accessed December 14, 2015). 2. View map at making/ (accessed December 14, 2015). 3. Profile is based on phone interview by the author, July 23, 2015. For more information about Pike, go to and https://www.etsy .com/shop/KelseyPike (accessed December 14, 2015). 4. To view Chancery Papermaking video, go to (accessed December 14, 2015). 5. Profile is based on phone interview by the author, June 27, 2015. For more information about Pandey, go to and (accessed December 31, 2015). 6. Pandey is a member-at-large for the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA).