Paper Trails: Watermarks international handmade paper conference comes to Cleveland

Paper artist Morgan Conservatory director Tom Balbo.

by Douglas Max Utter

No matter how talented (or how much of a geek) you may be, you can’t really whip up a batch of iPads in the basement; the “I” in

that product will never be “you.” But the “hand” in “handmade paper” could easily be the one at the end of  your arm. Nothing but a mud pie is as personal or primal, as rich in history, or as recipe-friendly as a vat of paper slurry. Maybe you can’t check your email on paper made from, say, strips of your old army uniform (as were the works of art at the “War as Art, Art as War” exhibit, on view at the Morgan Paper Conservancy in 2009). But you can read in such paper emotions and experiences that connect back to the beginning of human culture. The only thing you need to plug in is your attention.

That’s at least part of what they do at the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation, which occupies a one-story brick factory building in a raw-boned neighborhood along East 47th Street between Commerce and Payne Avenues, just a few blocks from Hough. A virtual wasteland since the mid-century collapse of the north coast’s  small industries, it’s not a part of town where businesses, or people, have tended to thrive in recent decades. But things  are turning around, here as elsewhere in Cuyahoga County, and the Morgan is a textbook example of the way that  surprising socio-economic transformations can come out of left field. Starting as a gleam in cast-paper artist Tom Balbo’s  eye in 2006, the not-for-profit has quickly become a key player in the rebirth and expansion of the local art scene.

This fall the Morgan, as it’s familiarly called by area artists and audiences, is making a bid for much wider public attention as it hosts an international paper-making conference. Starting in the 1960s, interest among visual artists in hand-made paper has grown steadily into a major force in American art, forging ties with international paper-making   communities in Japan, Australia, and elsewhere. Called “Watermarks,” the five-day affair is this year’s edition of the   annual conference of IAPMA (International Art Paper Makers Association) and the organization Friends of Dard Hunter,   both of which are at the center of world-wide handmade paper activities.

Last year’s event was held in Wonju, South Korea, and its 2012 presence in Cleveland is not only important for the city  and its arts but for the much larger context of American fine art paper making. It’s also a bit of a homecoming for the FDH, whose inspirational founder was born in Steubenville, Ohio, eventually becoming famous for his work with Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters based in western New York. Workshops showing ways to derive color from wind fallen plant  material and the uses of plant fiber decanted from the tuber kon’ nyoku (aka “devil’s tongue”), among other papery  subjects, will be conducted by artists from all over the globe, including Japanese master artist and paper researcher Asao Shimura, currently based in the Philippines, and University of South Australia printmaker and blogger India Flint.

Related exhibits, lectures, and tours are scheduled in cooperation with galleries throughout the city, including William  Busta Gallery, Zygote Press, Proximity Gallery, the Cleveland Artist’s Foundation at the Beck Center, Notre Dame  University’s gallery, and Tom Balbo’s own space located not far from the Morgan on Hough Avenue. Three hundred-plus attendees are expected to arrive in time to hear a keynote address delivered by one of the world’s best known  bibliophiles, Nicholas Basbanes, author of the 2001 bestseller “Patience and Fortitude.” Basbanes is currently writing a  book about the history of paper with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

As the conference draws near, Morgan staffers Susan Kelly and Lauren Sammon are working hard to put together a  program that begins to look like a big-time trade fair. Watermarks has grown steadily from the moment it was first suggested six years ago—just about a year longer than the grove of mulberry trees, which have slowly taken deeper root in a plot behind the West 47th street building—have been growing.

Nurtured by Balbo’s personal encounters, an ever-expanding circle of well-wishers includes festival sponsors like the George Gund Foundation and the American Greetings Corporation. The trees, which were originally donated by the  University of Iowa, are also doing extremely well in their adoptive inner city micro-climate. Every growing season the  bark from the latest tall shoots is used to produce another batch of durable, neutral pH paper. The Morgan’s artisanal  papers made from mulberry and other materials are available for sale, and the business is steadily expanding. Balbo  points to a medieval-looking, peaked brick fire pit just beyond the trees, reconstructed from shards of whatever industry  thrived here a century ago. “We boil the bark there, so we don’t need to turn on the gas.” Sustainable, green, warm and  lovely in its own slightly steampunk way, the whole place is perfect as a welcoming hearth for travelers visiting northern Ohio.


Morgan Conservatory
1754 East 47th Street, Cleveland

Unless noted, exhibits October 2–November 25
Closed to the general public October 15–21
Jerry Rigged
Curated by Peter Hopkins, Pownall, VT.
Non-traditional tools and techniques for paper making

Watermarked handmade papers

Colossal Paper
Large sheets of handmade papers hung from the ceiling

FDH & IAPMA Juried Member Show
October 19–November 25, 2012
Works of 65 artists selected by jurors, Anne Vilsboll, Erica Sptizer Rasmussen and Tom Balbo
Tom Balbo Galleries
5611 Hough Avenue, Cleveland
Exhibits October 2–November 25
Closed to the general public October 15–21
Paul Robbert and Others
Robbert (1928–2008) explored making paper art using pulp as a medium in its own right

In the Field
Paper made by IAPMA and FDH artists experimenting with
natural fibers other than abaca or cotton
Convivium 33
Josaphat Arts Hall
1433 East 33rd Street, Cleveland
Dichotomies: 9 Artists Explore Pulp and Paper
October 17–21

Curated by Lynn Sures, Silver Spring, MD

The first group show by the fledgling pulp painting group, Pulparazzi
1667 East 40th Street, Suite 1A, Cleveland

In the Hot Seat
October 17–27
Curated by John Risseeuw, Tempe, AZ
Artwork in handmade paper that considers or confronts
issues of social and political importance
Zygote Press
1410 East 30th Street, Cleveland

Hand Papermaking’s Innovative Printmaking Portfolio
October 17–21
Organized by Tom Bannister of Hand Papermaking Magazine
The Wyndham Hotel at Playhouse Square
1260 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
Paper Runway Conference Banquet
October 20, 2012
Runway event featuring wearable paper art and garments
Banquet/Runway show only: $50


William Busta Gallery
2731 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland
Melissa J. Craig, Jim Pernotto, Sally Matia: Artists Working In Paper
October 10–November 10
CWRU Gallery at MSASS
11235 Bellflower Road, Cleveland

On Or About Paper
October 1–November 2
Northeast Ohio artists, Pam McKee and Paula Zinsmeister
Cleveland Artists Foundation
17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood
All exhibits September 7–November 17, 2012

Not Pulp Fiction: Cast Paper and Pulp Painting by Tom Balbo
Art Books Cleveland 5th annual abcedaria exhibition
art books cleveland archives Juried retrospective

Cleveland Institute of Art
Joseph McCullough Center, 1st Floor
11610 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland

On/Of Paper
October 15–December 8
Curated by Maggie Denk-Leigh, Independence, OH
Varied work of recent Morgan Conservatory interns

No Idle Hands, Works by Denis Bookwalter
October 15–December 8
At the McCullough Center and the Gund Building
11141 East Boulevard
Cleveland Institute of Art
Gund Building
11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland

Artists’ Books: A Selection from the Gund Library Collection
October 15–November 4
Heights Arts
2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights

September 7–October 20
Curated by Andrea Joki
Judson Howson Gallery
2181 Ambleside Drive, Cleveland

Marking Time and Mapping the Spirit: Two Artists of the Natural World: India Flint and Susan Gaylord
September 21–October 28
Curated by Laura Martin and Christine Mauersberger
Verne Collection
2207 Murray Hill Road, Cleveland

October 17–October 20