I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Public Health, and two minors: Chemistry and Religious Studies. I worked as a microbiology lab technician with the Fish Disease Control Center (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) in La Crosse, Wisconsin for almost 12 years. In 1991 I got married and moved west to join my new husband.
I'd never considered myself an artist. Lab technician, maybe. Microbiologist. Braille and tape transcriber. Obsessive writer and free-lance prophet...
Until I found myself in the middle of the artist community in Eugene Oregon, helping my husband, a potter and volunteer public radio host with his Saturday Market booth. Surrounded by myriad talented folks, I felt like I needed some art of my own to do, just for self-defense.
At the time, Frank was resident potter at the Erb Memorial Union's Craft Center and spent a lot of time in the clay studio. If I wanted to see him I almost had to be there too. The Craft Center is a remarkable resource in the community, where you can learn just about any craft or medium: woodworking, photography, jewelry making, basketry, weaving, sewing, knitting and other fiber arts, stone carving, flint-knapping, beadwork, silkscreen, bookbinding... you get the picture. As a resident artist, Frank was entitled to one free class per term. Sometimes we'd split the discount and take classes together; sometimes he'd arrange for me to take a free class in his place.
I took introductory classes in beadwork and polymer clay, basic Chinese drawing, rubber stamp carving, some ceramics, basket making, teddy bear making, box making, and three ring binder rejuvenation. I learned paper marbleing and bookbinding and even how to run a sewing machine. I had fun in most of the classes, but found that none of them really took; while I enjoyed making the projects in class, I had trouble coming up with my own ideas afterwards. I found I needed the class members for inspiration, and the instructors were my security. I was a capable technician with some of the projects, but that was about all.
I was getting a little discouraged, trying all these different routes and not finding anything that felt right to me. I really wanted something where I could combine the art with my other interests: resource conservation, microbiology, exploring the natural environment around me.
Then in January 1994 I took a papermaking class at the Craft Center with
Aimee Yogi. She talked about making paper from native plants, and from previously
used paper. She also included a walking tour around campus to show us what
the plants looked like; a useful thing for those of us who live in the city
and think little about the environment around us. I soon realized that I
could get a fair amount of my raw materials for the asking from neighbors,
diverting paper from the waste stream and garden trimmings from the trash
or compost heap. The transformation process from plant to pulp could be facilitated
by a judicious application of my knowledge of microbiology. Equipment
I needed wasn't very expensive, much of it could be found at secondhand
stores, or, if
I promised to clean it thoroughly afterwards, borrowed from the kitchen. And my training in scientific
record-keeping perfectly suited the process.
I started selling paper when the experimental
phase had cycled a couple times through, and I had repeatable
results, i.e. a bigger stack of handmade papers than I knew what to do with. Family and friends had learned to
expect hand made cards on hand made paper. But that only uses a small part of the number of sheets I could
make, exploring all the different combinations and possibilities. Frank thought I should start a handmade paper
business, selling with him at Saturday Market, mostly, I think, so he could suggest a name for the business.