The words “handmade paper” call to mind images of textured note cards, journals with thick, multi-hued pages, or one-of-a-kind sheets of stationary, sometimes with a delicate grass or flower petal visible. Charming, to be sure, and a type of art that all can enjoy.
But the upcoming Art of Handmade Paper show opening at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs this Sunday, Sept. 16, is sure to amaze viewers with the vast array of striking and unexpected ways this medium is used. In many cases it seems barely believable that everything here is created with handmade paper, not clay, thick paint, yarn, twine, or wood.
“Handmade paper in its own right is an incredible, versatile medium,” said Sandy Bernat, guest curator for the show, with her characteristic passion about this art form. “You can sculpt, you can paint with it, you can pull simple sheets of paper, you can create a wet fiber book. It’s so varied!”
Ms. Bernat, a well-known Vineyard paper artist, has worked with handmade paper in her West Tisbury Seastone Papers studio since 1988, creating, teaching, and offering studio space to other paper artists. Her daughter, Larissa Bernat, teaches summer Seastone Kids classes for ages 7 to 12.
Many have had their first introduction to handmade paper by seeing Ms. Bernat’s captivating journals and cards at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and other venues. Adults and youngsters alike have visited her studio for the hands-on thrill of making paper from plant pulp.
Ms. Bernat’s enthusiasm for paper is infectious and her knowledge extensive. When Featherstone asked her to organize a show of handmade paper art she agreed to do it despite never having curated an exhibit before.
“I said ‘yes’ because I do feel that handmade paper and wet plant fiber has been put in the background,” Ms. Bernat said. “But there is so much art that entails handmade paper. I wanted this show to help people understand more about the possibilities of handmade paper, and bring an educational component to it.”
Showcasing work by 13 artists, each with a very individual style and technique, the exhibit truly achieves the goal of illustrating all that is possible with this unusual and sometimes overlooked medium. The participants, who come from five states as well as Cape Cod and the Vineyard, include veteran paper artists along with some who work primarily in other media but delve into the varied universe of handmade paper sporadically.
Each artist’s work is more inventive than the next. Again and again visitors will be surprised to see the many personalities of handmade paper, the many forms it can take. Ms. Bernat said she invited participants with an eye to variety and quality.
“I wanted to give the exhibit diversity and a wide range of the possibilities in paper art,” she said.There are several breathtaking examples of pulp painting, a technique in which the artist applies colored wet paper fiber to a handmade paper surface then manipulates it during the drying process to create shapes and images. The resulting picture may look like a conventional painting from afar, but has a striking multi-dimensional sense of depth.
The works range from delicate to robust. Shannon Brock’s “are so fine you would think she is doing it with pen and ink,” Ms. Bernat commented.
Aimee Lee, a Korean-American artist who received a Fulbright Fellowship to Korea to study the traditional paper art of hanji is showing items knitted with slender “thread” that she creates from her own handmade paper.
There are attention-grabbing life-sized sculptures of human figures with a pensive look by Deborah Baldizar. Beck Whitehead creates an otherworldly landscape with her “Between Flora and Fauna” installation; Laurene Krasny Brown’s whimsical “Bird Gallery” shows a bevy of bright birds, all different, each made from several individually constructed parts, expecting to fly.
There are even pieces of “wearable art” by Ms. Bernat herself. Although they cannot really be worn, they look like elegant bags and purses, which Ms. Bernat constructs from banana leaf fiber, which is beaten for hours. She manipulates the pliable fiber into shapes and strands with spaces in between and then adds bright touches like silk thread or strands of silver. “You would think they were knitted,” she said.
To give gallery visitors a better understanding of the artistic process, a video will show the changes in paper pulp as it dries and appears to move, thanks to time-lapse photography.
Ms. Bernat admitted that she found the myriad aspects of organizing an exhibit to be daunting, and she said she has newfound admiration for those who frequently curate art shows. But no matter how much work it was, she is pleased to have this opportunity to welcome viewers into her little-known world of handmade paper art.
Opening Reception: The Art of Handmade Paper, Sunday, Sept. 16, 4–6 pm, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. Through October 3. 508-693-1850. featherstoneart.org; 508-693-1850.