Locals learning the art of papermaking

Joseph Pratt

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The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center (SOMACC) opened its doors for another Ohio Arts Council sponsored Artist-in-Residency this month and the community has not been let down. The artist hosting the project is Ann Corley Silverman, who focuses on the art of papermaking.

Silverman spent her life studying classic literature and Greek, but attended a papermaking course in 1992 and was hooked. Since then, she has spent many years learning the trade, studying at Ohio State University and places all over the country.

Silverman is involved in several arts councils and venues, and has has accomplished a lot of work over the years, but remains impressed with what the museum has offered through her residency.

The residency has benefited two organizations, with the Counseling Center being the focus group and Portsmouth STEM Academy as a secondary group.

“I was very impressed that Charlotte (Gordon) wanted to have this outreach in the community with this non-traditional sort of venue with the Counseling Center,” Silverman said. “We aren’t just going to the schools, as usual, but we are instead touching people who aren’t generally served by the arts.”

Silverman said that she has noticed a lot of merit in teaching those who are graduating from the Counseling Center, those who have struggled with issues of dependency and addiction.

“From the very beginning, we talked about plant fiber and the origins of paper. The lessons have been heavily based on nature and how all things come from it,” Silverman said. “The individuals have spent time working on these elements and going through the steps of making something out of nothing. It has been very much like the program they are in at the Counseling Center.”

The process of papermaking that the individuals are being taught is as traditional as it gets. They are stripping special plants into sections and harnessing the most inner layer, which is the softest and most pliable material of the plant. They are then pounding it out and chopping it into small pieces, so that it becomes more fibrous.

Once they have the pieces in small, weak strings, they soak them in water. The water breaks down the material further. After a good soak, the individuals strain the water with screens and form the shape of the paper they want. It is then worked and dried into the final product.

The work has led them to create decorative objects, sheets of paper, cards, journals, and more. They’ve also been taught methods of paper binding and bookmaking.

The individuals have been excited to see the final products of their effort, but Silverman said the focus of the residency has been much more on education and therapy.

“We are using elements of nature, because that is where I come from, but also because it is working well with them symbolically; with elements of recovery, restructure and growth, they can truly relate,” Silverman explained. “I am having a blast, too, because so many of them are open to what is going on in their own lives, and, to me, paper translates the world we live into this new surface that we can then use in new ways.”

The residency has had a positive impact on the individuals and they’ve been vocal about what they’ve learned.

“This has given me a new way to look at things,” Joey, a charge of the Counseling Center, said. “Taking water and mush, and making it into a pieces of paper is amazing. To do this is humbling. I can make art and be successful.”

The project has also gone over well with fellow Counseling Center charge Candace.

“You are taking something from the Earth and making it yours. It is amazing,” Candace said. “It helps me express myself through the paper.”

The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center has welcomed residencies like this one for 35 years and Artistic Director Charlotte Gordon says that they learn something new every time.

“We are very grateful to the Ohio Arts Council for providing this opportunity to impact all parts of our community through the arts,” Gordon said. “It provides the individual the opportunity to discover and develop their creative voice and a new way to look at the world while working with a professional artist.”

Gordon said that she and the museum staff have also enjoyed working with the people of the Counseling Center, who have all embraced the project with open minds.

“We have enjoyed this collaboration with the Counseling Center. For us, it has broadened our audience; for them, it broadened their community. The best of a collaboration.”

Silverman will be working with the individuals to create a final installation piece that will be housed in one of the Counseling Center locations. The individuals will also have a small gallery of their work to show after the residency.

Gina Collinsworth, of the Counseling Center, said that the individuals who participated in the project are all soon-to-be graduates of the program and will be looking for employment in the community.

Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.

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Submitted Photo Silverman working with individuals from the Counseling Center
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2015/10/web1_AiR.15..11.jpgSubmitted Photo Silverman working with individuals from the Counseling Center

Submitted Photo Silverman working with individuals from the Counseling Center
http://portsmouth-dailytimes.aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2015/10/web1_AiR.15..10.jpgSubmitted Photo Silverman working with individuals from the Counseling Center