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Project Report

Papermaking Project with the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and Hawkhurst Primary School. Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery contacted me after observing work which I was doing in the Claremont School, Tunbridge Wells, to set up a papermaking project with the children in Hawkshurst Primary School. Katrina Burton, Education Officer for the museum, proposed that we engage with all of the children in the school to create a body work for exhibition in The People Show at the museum in May of 2007. Work began in earnest in the middle of February, 2007, and I spent four days at the school making paper with children from reception right through to those in their final year (approximately 220 of them.) Workshops were run throughout the day, the duration of each workshop catering to the age and ability level of the children. 15-20 children made paper in each workshop, which lasted about 45-60 minutes. Ordinarily, this would be far too intensive for one artist to cope with, but due to the dedication of the museum staff, the class teachers and the extra helpers that were enlisted for the job, the sessions ran smoothly, everyone learned a lot, and nearly 650 sheets of A5 handmade paper were produced in the course of the week. Each and every one of those sheets were different from every other one, as the substance or furnish in the papermakers tub changed as each child had a go, there being a bit more or a bit less colourant or plant material every time a child couched or placed their paper onto the curved papermakers tabletop. All of the materials used for the papermaking workshops were from recycled sources or from plant material grown in the artists or schools garden. Emphasis was placed on colour mixing using ground up coloured papers. The added bits of organic material gave the paper addition colour, texture, and interest. As the school uses a system of colours to identify their classes (e.g. year six was known as the violet class.), each group of children made that colour of paper which corresponded to their class identity. Thus, we made papers covering the entire spectrum during the week, creating a rainbow of distinctive sheets.

Forming the paper

Pressing multiple sheets

Once I completed the paper making with the children, it was up to the school to finish the drying of the papers, which was done naturally, in the classrooms, over the weekend. A few weeks later, Katrina from the museum returned to the school to start phase two. Using artefacts, clothing, toys, tools, historical ephemera etc. from the Tunbridge Wells Museum to demonstrate how children once lived in earlier times, she asked the kids at Hawkhurst to reflect on what it was that made them individuals, how they might be different from someone else, what hobbies they had, their particular likes and dislikes, their favourite pet or place or feeling. This, in keeping with the theme of The People Show, asked the basic question: People, what makes us unique? The children were then invited to put their ideas down on paper, and eventually to sketch onto the handmade papers which they themselves had made. So not only were the single sheets unique, but the drawings placed upon were, too.

Drawing on the paper

Katrina then gathered up all of the more successful pieces from the different classes, and took them back to the museum to sort and devise a strategy for the creation of a large installation in the main gallery. I had already given her some ideas about how the papers could be shown, so using our previous discussions Katrina set about to construct large panels of the rainbow colours by fixing them together on their edges using double sided tape. She chose some drawings to act as see through holes by cutting out the pencil lines with a scalpel knife. These simple silhouettes were also incorporated into the larger panels as they grew in size. Eventually, five hangings in all were the result, each one measuring approximately 2 (65 cm) x 66(2 metres) , each with some cut out shapes in them, all with the graded tones of the rainbow colours previously mentioned.

Hanging from the ceiling

These five large banners were then hung up independently by first reinforcing the top edge of the handmade paper and then stringing them up with strong fishing line and bamboo rods. The panels were hung with more fishing line from a bar in the main gallery about 10/3 metres high, or about 3/1 metre from the floor, and 4 /1.5 metres apart, in a staggered line. The resulting installation was a delight: brightly coloured, cleverly patterned, with little see through vignettes which revealed the panels behind. Some of these cut out shapes took on completely new identities when they were viewed, bringing in colours as well as shadows from some of the other panels in the distance. And to make it even more exciting, many of the smaller children who came to the opening of the exhibition thought it was great fun to weave in and out of the panels like slalom racers on a downhill run, thus pitching the papers to and fro, back and forth, creating a mobile riot of colour, texture, and design. Some children found it fascinating to stick their little hands through the holes in the panels.

Others liked to peak through, or around, or under the panels as they moved through the gallery space. Thankfully, because Katrina made reinforcing tabs at the top and used the correct thickness of fishing line, the handmade papers stood up to this youthful exuberance, and in the end, an even more exciting exhibition came out of all of our efforts.

Hopefully this project will inspire other schools and museum organisers to use papermaking as a springboard to create items of unique beauty from what, after all, is a simple basic item which children use everyday: paper.

Jonathan Korejko , Timberland Art and Design 15th June 2007 J. Korejko

The first four photographs in this report are courtesy of the Tunbridge Wells museum. The rest were done by the artist.