Artful Behavior

07/19/2019

“What are artists creating with your products?”

by Tina Manzer

Making paper by hand became a lost art, at least in the U.S., after machines took over production in the early 19th century. But just like other creative practices that have been lost and then found, and then lost and found again (encaustic, mosaic, calligraphy, etc.), making paper by hand has enjoyed cyclical revivals. Right now it’s gaining traction in classrooms, maker spaces, community art centers and other workshop-based programs.

Probably the most gratifying application comes from the world of special education, says Kim Grummer, owner of Arnold Grummer’s LLC. Private and public schools around the country run papermaking ‘businesses,’ which offer meaningful participation for individuals with diverse abilities.

“It’s an activity that can involve many ages and abilities at once; that’s why families enjoy papermaking together,” explains Kim, whose company has been supplying papermaking kits and accessories for 43 years. “In schools, it’s an engaging art lesson, but easily travels across curriculum to language arts, social studies and history. Today, the STEAM movement has teachers, educational centers and community programs looking for ways to explore STEM core subjects with a creative art application.” (The company will launch a new set of paper-art lesson plans for STEAM in January.)

Adult artists have re-discovered the unique textures and natural inclusions that handmade paper can add to their art. Some artists are “paper casting” with cotton linter fiber. “Fine details of a mold are not only replicated, but ‘pop’ with light and shadow falling across the fiber’s surface,” Kim says.

To add strength to flat and dimensional structures, artists use the leaf-fiber abaca. Letterpress and print artists prefer cotton rag paper. “Arnold Grummer’s fibers are packaged and sold by weight with directions and scannable barcodes. A press, along with the fibers, is essential for artists. Our book-and-paper presses can be drop shipped for dealers to their customers,” she notes.

A “making” renaissance in the ’70s

Kim’s parents, Arnold and Mabel, began the company in the middle of a papermaking renaissance triggered a few years earlier by Katherine and Howard Clark. An artist and engineer, respectively, the Clarks started a handmade paper mill, Twinrocker, in 1971 in Brookston, Indiana. “Every hand papermaking center and university program can trace its roots to Twinrocker and the Clarks,” says Kim.

Arnold Grummer became hooked on making paper as a teacher at the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Wisconsin. “He was a camera-ready showman who thoroughly loved his papermaking process. His appearances on national TV inspired millions of viewers to make paper, which drove strong sales. Independent and multi-location art stores became solid partners, and the company rode the paper-crafts wave into the 2000s.”

But after the economic collapse of 2008, retail sales of papermaking supplies declined, says Kim. “Thankfully, school markets held strong.”

The 2019 holiday season marks Arnold Grummer’s re-entry into retail. She says dealer partners are returning to become a growing sector of her business. “We appreciate the work they do to build relationships and raise quality of life in their communities through art. It’s meaningful to play even a small part in that.”

A return to retail

Artist & Craftsman Supply stores carry a full POG of Arnold Grummer’s papermaking kits and supplies, and Kim has been touring the country re-introducing the process and products to store employees and customers. “In the ’70s, people got a kick out of recycling wastepaper and enjoyed the ‘experience’ of making paper. People still appreciate the recycling aspect, and the fun of the process. Surprisingly, ‘What can I do with my paper?’ is a frequent question,” Kim says.

“Before starting a demo we always ask, ‘How many of you have made paper before?’ Until the mid-00s, lots of hands would go up. Today, often no one has any papermaking experiences. That’s a shocker. It shows how much work we have to do.”

Feedback post-demo is consistently positive. I never knew it was this easy to make paper, I always thought papermaking was messier than this, and I can use wastepaper? are just some of the comments Kim hears.

Her kits include everything but the wastepaper, so users must collect their own. “New papermakers find Bush’s Baked Beans labels with their golden-copper metallic hues irresistible. Deserted paper wasp nests are also popular this year. When you put it them in a blender with water, you can whip up
amazing results.”

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