September 17, 2002

The Art of Making a Life

Slightly more than one year ago today, I was in the mountains of Utah at Robert Redford's Sundance resort, enjoying a week's vacation with my mother. During that trip we participated in a paper making class at the resort's Art Shack.

The art of making paper is a craft elegant in its simplicity. Discarded paper is recycled with warm water and pureed into a pulp in a food processor. This pulp forms the base of new paper and is added to a washbin full of lukewarm water. Scraps of dried flowers and plants, discarded colored paper, etc. can be torn and added to the surface water.

Frames of mesh fabric stretched tight across various wooden shapes are then dipped deeply into the water and lifted, capturing pulp and scraps in the upward motion. Whatever is caught now becomes the paper art you are making.

Trying to catch certain scraps as you lift up is futile as the rush of the water always moves them beyond the frame (much as we experience when pursuing something too much in life). If you don’t like the art captured in the frame, you must simply dip deeply again, releasing the previous contents, and drawing forth a new image. Not bad advice for living.

Filled frames are then dabbed with dry cloths to wipe out excess moisture and then placed frame side down on coated paper (magazines work great). Edges of the frame are tapped to loosen the collected pulp until finally the entire frame can be removed to reveal what once dried, will be the paper you have created. I wrote the following poem to illustrate how the art of making paper parallels the art of making a life.

elegant trees whose majesty
once heavens reached
now lay fallen

trunks split open revealing
the circles of time
the journey ended

now close to the Earth
from which they came
they give harvest to new forms

from pulp comes paper
strong and solid as its ancestors
yet holding an artistry
not of Gods, but of human hands

and the art of making paper
is the art of making a life

each of us daily dips into
the sea that surrounds us
filled with swirling bits of life …
our past and present

we too reach for the heavens
and capture in forms
available only to ourselves
that which we call our life

try not to make the scrapbook images
collect only in ways which you desire
for they shall not oblige

reject the temptation to control
that which cannot be controlled

refuse to force order on that which
must be free to explore

instead let your life find itself
joining together in patterns
you have not yet imagined

realize the beauty in whatever
you find yielding its new presence

the art of making paper
is indeed the art of making life

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