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A Cross-Atlantic Conversation on Teaching Papermaking to Children

jonathan korejko

Hand Papermaking invited two active itinerant papermaking instructors—one in the US, Winnie Radolan, who contributes a column on education for Hand Papermaking Newsletter and one in the UK, Jonathan Korejko, who has taught papermaking to over a thousand children and adults—to compare notes about introducing young people to the medium of paper. Winnie Radolan (wr): I’d love to hear the story of how papermaking first got a grip on “your fibres,” and how the path led to your work with children. Jonathan Korejko (jk): I first started making paper with children 23 years ago when I was an artist-in-residence at a teacher training college. I saw then how much fun the children had, and how readily they responded to the task. Papermaking comes naturally to children. They can get wet, be messy, and create something from nothing. They can join with others in experiencing a bit of magic whilst becoming lost in the process. Papermaking is a positive, Jonathan Korejko works with a visitor at a craft fair on the confidence-building activity for kids! grounds of Blenheim Palace, in May 2010, making denim Since those early days, I have developed courses which I take to venues all paper from recycled jeans. Removing the unwanted bits of over the UK. I travel around the country teaching children and adults about fiber from the embedded denim cloth with fine tweezers paper, its history, and how to make it. I keep my approach very low-tech whilst is a special challenge. Photo: Jeff Rosenblum. encouraging people to set up their own papermaking units using easy-toAll photos courtesy of the authors. acquire tools, materials, and equipment. wr In the summer of 1989 I enrolled in a papermaking class that was held at the site of North America’s first paper mill. Taught by my mentor, Bobbie Lippman, this class met three days a week for six weeks in an open barn, situated in a beautifully wooded area. By the conclusion of this class a new lifetime papermaker had been born. Totally captivated by the entire process, I spent the remainder of the summer cooking a variety of vegetables to mix with my blender-processed abaca. Beautiful stacks of plant fiber paper began to accumulate around me. I started volunteering during RittenhouseTown’s 1990 summer papermaking program. That fall, I had the extraordinary experience of meeting the national community of papermakers/ artists/scientists/historians that gathered for the Dard Hunter annual conference, hosted in Philadelphia. What an eye opener for a “baby papermaker!”

& winnie radolan

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It wasn’t long before my enthusiasm and commitment led me to inheriting the Director of Education position at RittenhouseTown. During my tenure I had the thrill of engaging many guest artists to teach the adult summer papermaking workshops. And it was there that I had my first opportunities to exercise my classroom skills, with groups of visiting schoolchildren who came for some history and hands-on experience. With the help of a wonderful staff of volunteers, we would divide an average class of 30 children into two groups to cycle through both a historic tour and time at the vats. I learned a great deal during my ten years at this beloved site, following which, my itinerant adventures commenced! What are the different types of teaching venues that find you interfacing with children? jk I am employed by elementary and secondary schools, as well as schools for children with learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities, and youth centers. I work in the health care sector, and for local government agencies in their social care, arts, and leisure departments. There are also privately run galleries and craft centers that focus on children’s activities. I work at craft fairs, demonstrating techniques whilst inviting children and adults to have a go at papermaking. These shows take place in “marquees” (large outdoor tents) which are often alongside “stately homes” (huge mansions and palaces) which host the events. Many stately homes I work for are run by The National Trust, a charity which saves historic buildings. The Royal Horticultural Society, which manages beautiful large gardens in Britain, is another of my clients. The type of papermaking I do at these locations varies, from 15-minutes sessions to courses ranging from 2 to 5 hours. These weekend or summer activities are in contrast to my work in schools. School bookings adhere to strict timetables that can last a day or a week. When “in residence” I make paper with children for a couple days per week over a longer time period. wr I am impressed with your range of experiences! You sound like the British “Pied Piper of Paper.” I’ve worked with a varied population of students in schools, colleges, art centers, and the like, but I’ve never been to a “stately home!” Sometimes schools or camps invite me to share the art of paper with students, addressing paper’s history or linking it to environmental concerns such as recycling or clean water. Or I could be using paper as a vehicle to help to engage young people’s hearts and minds on a topic as far afield as horseshoe crab conservation. Basically these visits are broken into a presentation period, followed by a hands-on papermaking experience in which each child makes one or two sheets of paper, layered with some form of stenciled and/or pulp-painted embellishment. I have several outdoor festival-day papermaking experiences. From Earth Day to book fairs, township kids’ days and even a Japanese Summer Festival, I ask for water, tables, and perhaps a tent, and I bring pulp, vats, moulds and deckles, rolling pins, chamois and cardboard, and mostly lots of energy! I usually arrange for the sponsoring organization to pay me for either a full or half day, during which time I allow every child I can personally accommodate to make a layered sheet of paper. We press their wet paper

onto cardboard so that they can get it home in relative safety. Artist residencies are often the most rewarding and challenging for me. Perhaps we should compare and contrast how they evolve on both sides of the Atlantic. How do residencies land on your calendar? jk Whenever I finish jobs, I write reports which are illustrated with photos. These reports are sent to potential clients, followed by phone calls. My aim is to reach out to children and adults who may not have had the chance to learn about papermaking. I spend a lot of time doing research into which venue has an education officer, and a budget! There are also formal applications to residencies funded by The Arts Council which I apply for regularly. It might sound simple, but it’s hard work. Besides being a Pied Piper, Winnie, I have had to learn how to blow my own trumpet, too! wr Clearly, I could take a leaf out of your book on marketing strategies! That alone, sounds like a full-time job! The majority of my classroom residencies are arranged through Perkins Center for the Arts. I have been one of their “teaching artists” since the ’90s. Through their educational outreach program they offer New Jersey schools the ability to bring in a teaching artist to work with their students. I am also registered with two state art councils that place teaching artists in classrooms. I have worked in a few schools in which the artist-inresidence provides the only art experience students have, as there is no art educator on staff. There is often a requirement to have the art experience also relate to literacy and math, or possess other cross-curricular tie-ins, as papermaking does. When planning with a school, how do you field the challenges of scheduling, arranging facilities, and establishing the numbers of children with whom you will work? jk Most of the issues here are dealt with in advance of my visit. I describe to venues what I need in terms of space, facilities, number of tables, et cetera, and I’ll send lists or diagrams of my requirements. Schools explain to me how many children they would like to involve, and we discuss the best approach, time per session, and expected outcome. We do this over the phone, backed up by emails. wr There are so many parallels with our situations! I generally establish the residency structure and parameters during an inschool planning session. This allows me to meet the principal and hopefully staff, and to view the facilities while also getting a read on the atmosphere of the school community. Lately the most grueling part of these meetings is the discipline of scheduling, as in most recent residencies; it is the school’s wish that every student have some interaction with the guest artist. I insist on one room being dedicated to the papermaking activity, and that room should have easy access to water and adequate desk/table space for every student as well as for vats and the pressing station. I have sometimes had to make a single sheet of paper with each of 30 students within 30 minutes. But working with a core group of young artists on a paper art project, I require an hour to an hour-and-a-half block of time, depending on the age of the students. And yes, I’ve become most resilient in adapting to situations such as no VCR monitor for my video, no water except for in the supply closet down the hallway and around the corner, or the perennial un-scheduled fire drills!

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During a four-day workshop led by Winnie Radolan at Camp Perkins in Moorestown, New Jersey, campers cast the bottom layer of their vessels using cotton linter pulp in plastic containers.

Winnie shows Bret Harte. a fifth-grade student, how to wrap a sheet of flax around a reed armature.

How much do you communicate with the school and teachers when you design the lessons? Do you leave room for the school to express a direction for the residency or do they choose from a pre-planned program? jk I encourage discussions at all stages of a project. Some people appreciate collaboration, and others are just happy to accept what I have to offer. If a venue approves of my initial “sales pitch,” then they “buy” a pre-planned program and they leave it to me. If I get work by formal application/interview, I will design a syllabus to comply with the requirements set by the venue and their funders. A third variation is when everyone accepts in principle that we are going to run a project involving papermaking, and then we devise a program together. This is my preference. It is more challenging and requires research, planning, preparation, and nerves. But the results are much more exciting both for me and the children because it means that I am learning things at the same time I am teaching. The objects we create thereby reflect this mutual experience. Flexibility is the key to a successful project. wr In my case, sometimes the school or the teacher has a specific project in mind. Often they will have seen images from a previous residency I have done and will want an experience “in the same vein.” Since I am one of a stable of teaching artists, schools have a number of disciplines encompassing art, music, and language arts from which to select. A few years back the ceramic mural artists were getting a majority of the work, as schools were looking for lasting physical plant embellishment in addition to artistic experiences for their students. With exterior walls filling up with murals, I have had increasing requests for my interior wall installation project with high-shrinkage flax. A recurring theme is that it will be the graduating class’s gift to the school. How much teacher involvement/support is available to you? I find that every endeavor to gain the enthusiastic support of the classroom teacher is an opportunity to extend the learning beyond the time frame of my visits. jk I always request adult support at my venues. Indeed, it is an integral part of the approach I take, to broadcast papermaking to as many people as possible. I may get help from teachers, the education officer who hires me, classroom assistants, or

parents. Museums usually have volunteer staff fill this role. Helpers make it possible to achieve more with the children in terms of quality and quantity of the paper we produce. I prefer to have between four and eight children working at one vat. For a class with 32 children, I fill each of four vats with a different pulp mixture or recipe. This means four couching tables as well. Because not all of the children will be making paper all of the time, the extra adults in the room help maintain discipline, which assures a fun but controlled learning environment. You can imagine that with too many kids and too few adults, wet pulp starts flying around the room, resulting in a giant papermakers’ spitball fight: a sure way not to get invited back to a venue! wr How often are you able to involve parents? It is a rare opportunity for me and I find that it really underscores the learning experience! jk There is a scheme called “family learning” which I have developed with certain venues. This involves mixed ages of children with adults. It is more demanding to devise a syllabus which works. It also gives my work with people a greater depth, as I come to better understand how crucially important the relationship between child and parent is. The child’s ability to learn can be greatly enhanced by a parent’s willingness to share skills and encourage curiosity, so I devise papermaking programs which enable parents with children to achieve results both in their work as well as in their emotional bonding. wr Let’s talk about papermaking as a cross-curricular vehicle for exciting learning—art, history, science—how often and in what manner do you make these educational connections? For instance, I did a lesson for years, partnering with a science program that focused on water quality, and I currently run an education program for horseshoe crab conservation. jk Let me explain a little bit about the English education system, first. There is something called “The National Curriculum,” which dictates to all schools what subjects should be taught to children, and at what age they should attain specific targets. Literacy and numeracy are at the top of the list, as is science. Some teachers find that this system of attaining targets, constant testing, school inspections, and loads of paperwork makes it more difficult for them to deliver creative activities.

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Children sitting with their handmade books at the end of a three-week residency led by Jonathan Korejko. Fifty-four children, aged 11 and 12 years old, took part in the project at Bluecoat Primary School, Stamford, UK in June 2009.

Teaching children the importance of muscle power: pounding raw denim from recycled jeans in a hollowed-out beer keg. From a workshop at Christchurch Children’s Centre, Stamford, UK in February 2009.

To get jobs, therefore, I act as advisor in showing how papermaking fulfills standard requirements in literacy, numeracy, science, history, team working, and design skills, making it relevant to the curriculum. There are also schools improvement services, museums, and National Trust properties which employ education and outreach officers. These people help schools bring creativity into The National Curriculum and give more credence to the effectiveness of papermaking and its cross-curricular benefits. wr We too, have our version of core curriculum and standards, with which each teacher throughout grade levels must comply. It is a necessary concept, which varies slightly from state to state. But what seems universal is rigidity, teaching towards test results, excessive paperwork, and a real dearth of creative opportunities. This opens the door for teaching artists to offer cross-curricular creative experiences through the arts, language art, and music. We should touch on how we evaluate the impact of our lessons. In what ways do you measure success? jk The thing I have the least control over is the appraisal of children’s experience, mainly because I am freelance and outside of the system. There are other ways to view success, however. For example, I often attend the unveiling of work when children and teachers celebrate the end of a project in front of parents, funders, and friends. In 2009, I ran a residency making books from recycled paper with 54 children (11- and 12-year olds.) At the end of the ten days, the entire school assembled in the main hall. In fact, all of the children in the school had worked on arts projects with other practitioners, too, so we were there for a giant show-and-tell session. The papermakers came last on the agenda. “My” children planned all of their

presentation themselves: they asked me for pulp and equipment. I knew nothing more about it. Six young papermakers arrived on stage and stood behind the vat, couching table, and press. Without prompting, they gave a five-minute lecture on how to make paper: “…and here is the pulp…this is how you form the paper on the mould…now we are couching…” Each child handed his/her bit to the next until finally—“…and here is a finished piece of paper!”—triumphantly holding it up to the people in the hall to rapturous applause. I clapped a little, but I needed both hands to fight back the tears. I was very proud and moved beyond words. These were one set of “papermaker’s tears” which didn’t ruin the paper! wr Papermaking is an enticing cross-curricular vehicle for learning many related skills, and a very worthy pursuit in itself. But as our lives become increasingly embedded with technology, I am also appreciating papermaking as a valuable tool to instill a sense of personal power in children, with the knowledge that they can start with very basic ingredients and transform them into something entirely new and magical. jk I agree entirely, Winnie. You know, it’s been a pleasure talking to you in this way and learning about your work in the States. Travelling around the country making paper everywhere we go is exciting, to be sure, but the real joy comes from the knowledge that maybe, in some little way, we have made a difference to a child’s perception of the world. I’d like to finish with something that popped into my head as I couched some nettle paper yesterday: Every child should be given the opportunity to make paper at least once in their life before they grow up, and every adult should make paper for the rest of their life to make sure that they never grow up.

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