|Papers handmade at the Morgan Conservatory|
|Fine printing: Bible page by Eric Gill, type designer,|
typographer and illustrator
I visited the Morgan Conservatory in Craig's hometown, expecting it to be rather like the Annis Press at Wellesley. My mind was filled with an image of a stately building with Ionic columns. A Morgan Library.
|Ann Starr, 1999, "The Man Who Invented Genius," artist's|
book. 12 of 23 pages, ink on note paper, 2 x 3"
The Morgan Conservatory doesn't contain any library of rare books. Rather, it preserves the practices of paper making, letterpress printing, and all the resources that encourage their advancement from antique into every conception of the future. There's no sense here of Don't-Touch, but of experimentation and growth amidst watery slops and the intoxicating scent of printer's ink.
I was invited to wander around and to investigate freely. People were working or pausing to eat a mid-day sandwich, and all happy to answer a question. This is a social sort of studio with few enclosed spaces, where people are happy to work collaboratively and, in fact, often need an extra hand. I'll try to show you what I saw in my meandering around this wonderful place. I hope it entices you to go, and to keep up with their active schedule of shows.
The exterior of the building has been incorporated as an important part of the paper making facility. It has a large, lovely garden planted mainly with kozo, the paper mulberry tree. They grow kozo to favor the desired stems, which are stripped of bark, its fibers eventually being softened and pulped to become the basis for various forms of Oriental papers.
The Conservatory's kozo garden is being expanded with the launch of an Eastern Papers Studio. The garden isn't just a farm, though, but a wonderful sylvan experience in the city. Pots of hibiscus, marigolds, and short, red dahlias decorate the patio. Their brightness will linger on past the summer when their petals will be used to dye the studio's handmade papers.
A walkway into the garden's meditative space is marked by an ancient-looking archway, surely the sacred survivor of fire in an important building. Or, perhaps it was part of a very old ceramics kiln.
But no, I learned that this is a construction made entirely of paper, relinquished to the Morgan from a sister institution. Here it stands in the kozo garden all year, through everything the lake effect weather can hurl on it, enduring like the brick and stone that it is not. Ah, the book arts! Artists at the Morgan Conservatory see paper not necessarily as sheets.
Inside, there's an exciting sense of possibilities delivered by the openness: It's bright, high, decorated by new work, and very utilitarian. Works of paper art destined for "Contemporary Artists & Eastern Papers" are temporarily draped, hung, or laid out around the area like a casual abundance of precious materials, contrasting with the exposed pipes and beams of the working space. One feels invigorated by the sense that all energy expended here must be productive: There are no closets, no hidden spaces, nothing but loss of concentration to get between an artist and her work.
One is constantly reminded that individuals are part of a working community here. Interdependency is highlighted by safety reminders and notes about maintenance of shared facilities.
|paper on drying racks|
|moulds for making paper by the sheet|
At the Morgan, while one can purchase by the sheet handmade papers made to specification not only of size, but of fiber content, much of the paper work taking place is not for printers, calligraphers, or bookbinders, but for sculptors or conceptual artists. They are not necessarily making papers that are sheer, even, and meant to take ink without bleeding. They may be more like industrial workers, making papers stout enough to hold shapes, not to crack, warp, or shrink.
|Typecases and printed broadsheets|
|Sorted type for distribution|