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Over the winter break, the Center for Book and Paper Arts (CPBA) hosted a two-day papermaking workshop called Images in Pulp. The workshop was taught by Columbia College MFA alumnus Amy Jacobs. I’d studied with Amy in Italy a couple years back, so I was as eager to see an old friend as I was to go elbows deep in a vat full of pulp.

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The first I ever heard of Columbia College Chicago was when papermaker Amy Jacobs gave me a personal tutorial in a studio next to a 16th century Italian convent. So perhaps I owe my coming here to her. Or this crazy weird dream I had. But in fact, the reputation of CPBA was a strong pull for me. I wanted to be in a place where poetry could rub chins with the other arts, and I was now finally getting in the paper studio.

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Before the workshop, we had been asked to bring in images for stencils and some designs for blowouts—sheets of paper that take on an object’s silhouette. The class was designed to explore various techniques for creating images in the pulp through the use of pigments and pulp painting, watermarks, and blowouts on pulp made from linen rag, cotton, and abaca fibers.

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Amy performed a few demos and shared some work that she and some visiting artists had made at Dieu Donné in New York.

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Everyone was making some really great designs so I thought, well, I gotta make something cool. I pulled my next sheet and knew right then that there was only one thing I could do: a Chicago style hot dog. My self-confidence started to wane when the poppy seed bun began looking more like a six-year-old’s jaguar onesie, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a slight wave of satisfaction when I over heard someone ask their table partner, “Did you see that guy’s hot dog? Coooool.” (My next favorite was an abstract Kermit the Frog.)

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HOGGING THE VAT: This means to agitate the pulp with your hand in the bin before pulling a sheet so that the pulp is evenly distributed in the water. Amy calls this “jazz hands.”

COUCHING (pronounced “kooching”): From the French coucher—literally to lie or lay down—this term describes the act of transferring the wet sheet from the deckle onto the felt base, where it will subsequently be pressed and dried.

KISSING OFF: This is what happens when you pull a sheet and you’re like, whoopsie. You want to just chunk the poorly pulled sheet and try again, but the pulled pulp coagulates and won’t blend smoothly with the wet pulp in the bin. Kissing off is simply slapping the deckle flat on the surface of the water so that the suction created will evenly disperse the pulp re-entering the bin.

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Whether it’s functional paper or artist paper, there’s something remarkable about making your own by hand, especially for a poet. So much design care is given to the line, form, and even typeface, but now that publishing is starting to happen, I think equal consideration should be given to paper choice.

After the workshop, Amy was nice enough to tell me a little more about her personal history as a papermaker.

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DSP: Could you speak a little about the journey that eventually led you to papermaking?

AJ: I came to papermaking through working with textiles. I originally thought I was going to go to grad school for expressive therapies. I had to take a number of prerequisite art classes at the University of Louisville and took a textile class as an elective. I immediately fell in love with working in textiles and realized that working with thread and fabric came naturally to me. I had a wonderful teacher, Lida Gordon, who became my mentor and took me under her wing. We did some papermaking in our textile class, and it was something that intrigued me. Lida suggested that I take some art classes at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. I applied for a two-month concentration class in weaving and was lucky enough to receive a full scholarship. I ended up staying at Penland over the winter, and was then offered a work-study scholarship to take another class that spring. Julie Leonard and Ann Marie Kennedy were teaching a book and paper class up the hill, and I found myself visiting their studio almost every day.

I ended up applying to Penland’s Core Fellowship program that following fall and became a fellow that spring. My very first class was papermaking with Mary Hark. I can honestly say that her class and Penland changed my life. Mary was an incredible teacher and an amazing person—I learned a ton about papermaking that spring, and she helped me realize that there are many different ways to being an artist. She helped give me confidence in my artistic abilities. I was a fellow at Penland for two years and took more classes in papermaking, book arts, printmaking, alternative photography, small metals, wood, lost wax casting and more. I learned how to work with my hands and created a toolbox of techniques and skills in many different mediums.

I went directly to Columbia College Chicago for grad school to fine-tune those skills and to develop conceptually. During my grad school summers I did everything I could to expand my knowledge on book and paper arts. I assisted Sue Gosin, the founder of Dieu Donné, and Mina Takahashi, a former Executive Director and artist at Haystack in Maine. Then I assisted Paul Wong at Penland two years later. Sue called me a year and a half after finishing grad school and asked if I would consider moving to NY and work at Dieu Donné. I was there a month later. Still have to pinch myself that I actually have a job doing something I love. I feel incredibly lucky and thankful. I’ve been a Studio Collaborator, Instructor, and the Education Manager at Dieu Donné since 2010.

DSP: I know that papermaking has allowed you the chance to teach all over the world. Do you ever feel that teaching competes with your desires or abilities for being in the studio, or have you found a way to successfully marry these two passions?

AJ: I haven’t exactly found a way to marry my job, teaching, and studio work. Teaching and being a collaborator competes with my desires and abilities to have studio time. It’s been incredibly hard for me since moving to NYC and it’s something I’ve been struggling with, but I feel like I’m finally starting to find ways to make it work. Moving to NYC (especially being a southerner) is crazy in itself; it takes time to adjust, and many people that I’ve met said it could take 3-5 years to finally get into a rhythm. It’s been difficult because I make paper for my own work, and my paper studio is the same studio that I work in every day. I also assist artists in the studio by helping them to make work using the hand papermaking process. Most have never worked with pulp or handmade paper, so it’s up to me to help them create work in a new medium. I love collaborating and have learned that it takes a certain type of personality to do it. I’ve learned to set my ego aside and to focus on making the best work possible with another person’s idea and conceptions. It’s fascinating to me, and I love the experimentation and problem solving that goes into it. But being focused as a collaborator and the actual physicality of making paper can make me tired, and I’m really ready to just go home at the end of the day. I’ve found that if I go into the studio on a Saturday or Sunday, once I’m there I’m good, and can stay for 10 or more hours. I realize how lucky I am to have access to such an amazing papermaking studio and all the equipment.  One thing I’m realizing is that I may have to start to work smaller. I always want to work big, and I have so many ideas for installations, but it’s just not practical with my time and such a small studio space for working on paper or books that I have set up in my apartment. I’m starting to say yes to shows though. Having deadlines will help. I’m also trying to form a critique group with other artists that work full-time and might work in the collaborative process as well. It would be nice to have the help, as well as more push to getting into the studio.

DSP: And then you ended up working at Dieu Donné in NYC. Will you walk us through a typical day, if typical exists?

AJ: There are absolutely no typical days at Dieu Donné. We are a small staff, only four full-time employees, and two part-time, with only three of us in the studio. Lisa Switalski, another Studio Collaborator, Instructor and the Production Manager (she graduated from CCC as well), and Paul Wong, our Artistic Director. One day I’ll be training new interns, beating fibers, pigmenting pulp, invoicing clients, answering emails, and another day I’ll be in the studio working with one of our Workspace residents or one of our Lab Grant residents. I’m currently working on a large project with Ann Hamilton. The next day I’ll set up the studio and teach students from kindergarten to adults. Or I’ll be pulling sheets for a production order, editioning for a publishing project, or working with a studio renter.  I’m not sure how I’m able to switch gears each day (and each hour) wearing so many different hats, but I know that my job will never, EVER be boring!

DSP: It must’ve been a little strange, being back here at Columbia College Chicago for the 2-day workshop last month. What would you say was the most important thing you took away from your MFA experience here? And what would your now-self tell your then-self if you could?

It didn’t really feel strange to be back at Columbia to teach the paper class last month. It felt totally natural, and I think it was a terrific class (right?) I love that studio so much and felt very comfortable being back in it—so many fond memories of long days and nights making paper, pulp painting, dying paper, beating pulp, etc.  I loved being in all of the studios there—the bindery, print shop, my graduate studio—but the paper studio is where I spent the majority of my time and where I truly fell in love with the entire process. That’s where I knew that I wanted to find a way to make it my career. I had no idea that I would end up at Dieu Donné and working with Paul Wong. I also was given the opportunity to teach while at Columbia College Chicago, and I was really surprised at how much I loved it. I’ve found ways to teach almost continually since leaving grad school.

As far as the last question goes, my now-self would tell my then-self to try and learn how to relax and not stress so much. And to have more confidence. All was going to work out just fine. In fact, my now-self should listen to this as well.

DSP: Where do you see the direction of paper arts going in the next few years?

AJ: I think that making contemporary art using the hand papermaking process is something that more and more people are learning about. But it’s a medium that can sometimes be difficult for people to understand. It’s a combination of sculpture, painting, and printmaking and takes different elements from each process.  I think that, as places such as Dieu Donné bring more awareness and access to papermaking, there are no limits to how paper can be used in contemporary art.

Bio: Amy Jacobs is currently a Studio Collaborator, Instructor and Education Manager at Dieu Donné Papermill in New York City where she has collaborated with many artists including Ann Hamilton, Do Ho Suh, and James Siena. She attended the Penland School of Crafts two-year Core Fellowship Program in North Carolina before attending Columbia College Chicago where she received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She has taught workshops and classes at a number of institutions including the University of Georgia Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Louisville, Longwood University, East Carolina University, Asheville Bookworks, Penland School of Crafts, Ox-Bow School of the Arts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, The Printmaking Center of New Jersey and at Chateau du Pin in Angers, France. Her work is exhibited nationally and internationally.

About Dieu Donné:
Mission: Dieu Donné is a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation, promotion, and preservation of new contemporary art utilizing the hand papermaking process. The organization’s primary services and programs are devoted to working with mid-career and emerging artists to develop new, innovative methods of papermaking within the medium and the greater world of contemporary art. These programs provide a significant educational opportunity for contemporary artists by engaging them actively in the approaches to hand papermaking that Artistic Director Paul Wong has developed through collaborations with artists since our inception in 1976. Located in New York City, Dieu Donné houses a professional papermaking studio as well as a gallery, archive, and administrative offices.