Some people chase rainbows; I chase paper. It all started with PAPER INNOVATIONS (October 1985 until January 1986) at the Museum’s original location in University Towne Centre. It was my first encounter with the variety of uses that man has found for this seemingly delicate material over the centuries. From the gorgeous Indian fighting kites hanging from the ceiling to the paper Korean chests, looking for all the world as if they were made of wood, it was a revelation. There were paper cuts, origami, toys, lanterns, parasols and papier mâché boxes. There was even clothing, notably a kimono of cloth woven from paper thread.
A few years later, PAPER + FINLAND = ART (1999), came to Mingei International Museum from the American Craft Museum (now the Museum of Art and Design). The exhibition comprised contemporary sculpture, jewelry, lamps, urns, baskets and books made by artists who came from a range of backgrounds — jewelry making, sculpture, textile art and ceramics. They employed a variety of techniques such as hand pressing, molding, cutting and weaving, working with paper in all its forms from pulps containing flax, cotton and other natural materials to recycled newspapers, old phone books and cardboard. Paper is a traditional material in Finland, but the idea of using it to make art was new at that time. The exhibition was as refreshing as the forests and fields that the Finnish people revere.
I still enjoy finding paper in unexpected places, so I was delighted to discover in NORTHERN STARS two striking rugs woven from paper string — one with bold black horizontal stripes and thinner, black vertical stripes forming off-white rectangles between them, and the other, black with diagonal khaki dots. Their texture reminds me of my grandmother’s front porch rug, a thin, but sturdy rug of jute or some other natural fiber. These rugs are more refined, and would be at home in a living room. They were designed by Ritva Puotila, founder, with her son, in 1987 of Woodnotes, a company that makes textiles from paper yarn for domestic use — upholstery, carpets, blinds, etc.
Woodnotes also makes paper yarn pile rugs that have their roots in the folk weavings called ryijys. Ryijys are deep pile textiles traditionally made from wool, sometimes with cotton, that are knotted like Persian rugs but with the knots much farther apart. Their name comes from the Scandinavian word rya meaning thick cloth. First made in the ninth century as bed coverings, ryijys have been sleigh blankets, tapestries and prayer rugs at wedding ceremonies. In the eighteenth century, itinerant weavers went from town to town to weave these rugs for special occasions. An early example in wool and cotton of a Ritva Puotila ryijy (1960) is on display in the exhibition as is the famous Liekki (Flame) ryijy designed by the renowned artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela for the Finnish Pavilion at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.
On the same platform as the paper rugs is a sturdy, elegant chair made Järvis & Ruoko from thick, white cardboard. It begs to be sat upon.
More delightful paper creations are on view in SAN DIEGO’S CRAFT REVOLUTION. Graphic art includes a program from The Old Globe’s Twelfth National Shakespeare Festival and a charming selection of personal expressions on paper. There are handmade holiday greeting cards, invitations and ephemera. One piece of ephemera is a small, wider-than-high, spiral bound book of five colored cardstock pages that has been opened into a star shape. Its message is HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
Finally, there are in the Pardee Grand Gallery two newspaper clipping collages enhanced by twigs, “Who Decimated the American Indian I” and “Who Decimated the American Indian II,” by Carol Lebeck. Given the fragility of newsprint, these apparently well preserved images certainly seem antique with the twigs enhancing the effect of time gone by. After my first walk through the exhibition, I went back to look more carefully at these collages and to contemplate their message. That was when I read the labels. Both works, paper, twigs and all, were made of clay, using a transfer technique for the words and pictures. Created in 1979, a time when many ceramic artists had broken away from classical forms to explore new ways to use their material, Lebeck’s social comment is wryly expressed in clay masquerading as paper.
They say Ts’ai Lun invented paper in 104 CE. How clever of him to discover that some wood pulp suspended in water could be extracted in a flat strainer, stacked into sheets on porous material, pressed to squeeze out excess water and dried!
Just for fun, try making some at home. Here’s how: http://www.pioneerthinking.com/crafts/crafts-basics/makingpaper.html.
Paper flame ryijy
Paper ritva ryijy
Järvis & Ruoko cardboard chair
Graphic art from SAN DIEGO’S CRAFT REVOLUTION
Who Decimated the American Indian II by Carol Lebeck