Most people realize that paper comes from wood — commercial paper, like the kind you buy in stores, anyway. But few probably know how specialty papers are made. Art paper is made from fibers such as cotton and banana plant. For most of us, the process of turning a plant into a sheet of paper remains a mystery.
Twelve Colorado College students recently had a chance to unravel that mystery and not only make paper, but also print on that paper in a variety of ways in a book arts class titled Cover to Cover. The class was taught by Colin Frazer and paper artist Eric Saline in an effort to revitalize CC’s fine arts printing curriculum known as The Press. Frazer, director of The Press, said the fine arts print department was started in 1978 by art professor Jim Trissel and is known nationally for its fine printing and limited edition books. In less than 20 years of operation, hand-crafted works by The Press were collected by the Newberry Library in Chicago and the New York Public Library. One was commissioned by a British arts group as a 75th birthday gift for Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. After Trissel’s death in 1999, The Press, and the once popular paper- and book-related classes, fell by the wayside. After The Press received a grant last fall, the art department and Frazer decided to test the waters by offering Cover to Cover. “The goal is to eventually have a book arts minor at The Press,” said Frazer. Working in Cossitt Amphitheatre in the warm September sun, students scooped out handfuls of mashed tree fibers from buckets of pulp. They used their hands to push the fiber into wood-framed screens about the size of a sheet of notebook paper. Once compact, they flipped the frames, releasing the pressed fibers onto felt blankets. It took two students to carry a stack of the blankets, 10 high, to a hydraulic press where 10,000 pounds pressed down to squeeze the water from the fiber. Afterward, the newly created paper sheets were separated and gently laid in the sun to dry. Junior Erin Gittleman thought the class was a great way for students to express themselves and also to become more aware of their environment. “People waste a lot of paper because they are unaware of the resources and energy that goes into making it,” she said, pressing wet fibers into a rectanglar form. Once dried, the paper was ready to use. The students spent hours carving designs into blocks of wood and linoleum, then hours more choosing typefaces and setting their words by hand — letter by letter, word by word, space by space, line by line. Finally, it was time to print. Unlike modern mechanical presses, this handcrafted process requires inking rollers and designs by hand and then feeding each piece of paper into the rollers by hand. By late September the class of 12 had spent a week or so on little or no sleep to finish their final projects — small books, posters and art. With a newfound appreciation for the printing process and their own creations, the students hung their work on the walls of the college’s Packard Hall for a showing. They were drained and giddy, but most of all they were proud of their craftsmanship. Senior Julia Hathaway reflected on the class: “When we woke up every morning to go outside and make paper in a beautiful amphitheatre, no one was complaining. You use your brain differently to think about structure and organization. From making paper to setting type to making books, we learned a lot. “It was hard work, but we’re all proud of what we accomplished,” she said.