Uprooting expectations of creating art for ‘non-artists’

Local artists used weeds to make paper in a series of workshops.

Two artists led a workshop on papermaking for the Fleisher Art Memorial’s Sanctuary Series. | COURTESY VITA LITVAK

Nicole Donnelly and Mary Tasillo don’t see weeds as a nuisance. Instead, they see an opportunity to create something fresh: handmade paper.

By using weeds as a source of fiber for sustainable papermaking, Donnelly said she hopes to take “a deeper look at our connection to our environment … and [ask] others to be more aware of that connection as well.”

Donelly, the president of the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists, is one of the chosen participants in Fleisher Art Memorial’s Sanctuary Series. Fleisher Art Memorial is a nonprofit community-based art school striving to make art accessible. It hosts programs for artists of all levels and economic backgrounds. The nonprofit offers year round workshops, classes and open studio spaces with programs that cater to all age groups.

The Sanctuary Series is comprised of weekly events, ranging from documentary screenings to interactive art lessons like the one hosted by Donnelly.

Its work expands to community centers and public schools in riverfront neighborhoods in South Philadelphia to give children a chance to be exposed to art.

Donnelly, along with Tasillo, hosted the workshop “Hand Papermaking from Invasive Plants” on March 2.

Tasillo, a faculty member at Fleisher, said she hoped this event would bring more attention to the papermaking process among Philadelphians.

“My hope is that this talk gave people who are thinking about taking a multi-session papermaking class the opportunity to get their hands in some paper pulp, meet a couple of papermaking instructors and get a feel for our teaching personalities,” she said.

“Plants that we commonly view as ‘weeds’ are not necessarily something to be uprooted,” Donnelly said. “Our relationship with those plants can be cultivated to serve our needs.”

She said sustainability and working with the ecosystem is important—particularly now, in light of the “undeniable changes in climate” the earth is experiencing.

Over the course of the night, participants created more than 50 sheets of paper.

In addition to the activity, Donnelly and Tasillo taught attendees about the history of papermaking as well as all of the invasive plant species that are found in Philadelphia that can be used to create paper.

Donnelly said that she got “hooked” on papermaking halfway through her time in grad school.

“I was making these large room-sized drawing installations, drawing directly on the wall with charcoal,” she said. “A professor of mine asked if I would be interested in having these drawings on large paper, so that I could simply hang large drawings. I replied that I didn’t like any of the paper I could find commercially available, and then she said, ‘Oh! Well, you know there is a professor here who makes paper, and he can help you make paper any size you want.”

Each event in the series is free of charge. Vita Litvak, manager of adult programs at Fleisher, said  the organization’s goal is to provide “art education to everyone regardless of their economic means, cultural background and art-making experience.”

Litvak says that the “democratic way” that Fleisher carries out its art education programs is “refreshing and incredibly fulfilling.”

“As a presenter, I think Fleisher draws such a rich and diverse audience, from those who are simply interested in the topic to those who are perhaps more knowledgeable, from artists and ‘non-artists,’” Donnelly said. “Their commitment to community accessibility, to life learning, to the arts and truly interesting topics and programming week after week is exceptional and really unique to Philadelphia.”

Erin Blewett can be reached at erin.clare.blewett@temple.edu.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.