Essay

By Howard & Kathryn Clark, Twinrocker Hand Papermill

With the 1996 Guild of Book Workers Exhibition of 21 handmade book bindings of Peter and Donna Thomas' book PAPER, and our own 25th anniversary of making paper by hand, it seems an appropriate occasion to reflect on the exciting revival of hand papermaking in America and throughout the world. Peter says it very well in the first paragraph of his introduction to PAPER. "In the eighteenth century, hundreds of hand papermills flourished in the United States; by 1910 not a single mill remained. Coincident with the demise of this industry, Dard Hunter, an American book designer and craftsman, began an investigation of papermaking history and technique that would inspire a modern renaissance in hand papermaking."

It seems odd, at first, that the renaissance in hand papermaking began in the United States, where the craft was so long dead. The lack of historical precedent, however, freed us from the traditional "rules" of the craft as it was practiced in Europe.

In 1971, we modeled Twinrocker after limited edition print shops, hoping to make "editions" of custom papers for limited editions of prints and books. We intended to make small amounts of paper in a large variety of colors and sizes, papers that could even be designed to participate in an artistic statement. We didn't know the extent to which European hand papermaking had evolved into a rigid "industrial" craft with relatively high production of stocked papers, nor did we know that what we were about to do was considered undoable. With no rules, but instead an empty slate, the discoveries of the craft itself and its unlimited possibilities were very infectious, both technically and aesthetically.

Each person bitten by the paper bug approached the craft according to his or her own interest, whether it was artistic or historical or even botanical. This has contributed richness and variety to contemporary hand papermaking, which in turn contributes to the work done on and with the paper. Peter and Donna Thomas's book PAPER certainly reflects their particular interest in the history of the papermaking revival. PAPER contains samples by the main hand papermakers in America today. Within that group, there is all the wide variety of papers being made today by hand in the West, from raw hemp and retted flax, including pulp painting and laminations, to pure white cotton rag.

Today, paper is no longer taken for granted or discounted as an (anonymous) neutral surface or material. It is a "charged" object. As we speed into the era of little dots of light on a computer screen as information, the human-made object which we can touch is even more compelling. There is a valid, contemporary reason to practice these archaic technologies, hand papermaking, printing and bookbinding. The twenty-one bindings, depicted herein, are a perfect example of this. Holding a book in one's hands which has been completely made by other hands is an intimate, human experience that connects you with the makers.

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