Conservation Centre celebrates summer solstice by swapping book art creations

July 09, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — What do book conservators do when a pandemic strikes and keeps them from their workplaces? They make paper at home while the sun shines, thematically based on when it shines longest.

Penn State University Libraries’ Conservation Centre employees, led by Senior Book Conservator Bill Minter, recently joined other Potomac Chapter members of the Guild of Book Workers — “the national organization for all the book arts,” as its organization’s website states — for a "Summer Solstice Swap."

For the swap, chapter members were given a creative challenge to craft unique, handmade paper or a small piece of book art, such as a paper toy, cutout, print or postcard, that could be produced in multiples and sent in envelopes to other participating members. Chapter members also include individuals who work at the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian Institution Archives and at universities, while others are printmakers, independent bookbinders and book artists.

“The Solstice Swap was a great opportunity to create a unique item outside of the standard projects for the University Libraries collections,” Minter said. “This allowed us to expand our papermaking skills that can be shared during future workshops. While paper is a standard in any library, making decorative paper is educational and fun.”

collage of four images showing kitchen blender holding wet paper pulp, mashed strips of thin light bark, sponge, plastic cup, piece of window screening and circle of homemade paper

Penn State University Libraries’ Conservation Centre team made small circles of paper from their homes by using a kitchen blender and a variety of fibers, including soaked, beaten strips of amate bark, as displayed in the top right image. After blending wet paper scraps or beating amate into pulp, they added decorative bits of string and other material, such as dried flower petals. They poured a layer of the resulting mixture into a cup, covered the cup lid with a screen backed by a sponge, and transferred the pulp onto the screen by quickly inverting the cup. The resulting circles were then left to air-dry.

IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries

The Conservation Centre team embraced the event’s theme, making wire-based planetary mobiles using handmade papers formed into shapes of the Earth, a watermark-cratered Moon, stars and other interesting and unique planet concepts. Minter and staff members Jacque Quinn, Emily Jamison and Catherine Orochena spent several days making paper at home using a variety of fibers. The group also made amate, a bark-based paper prepared by indigenous peoples of Mexico. Amate was also made during a papermaking workshop held in early 2020 to complement the recent Eberly Family Special Collections exhibition “Indigenous Roots/Routes: Contested Histories, Contemporary Experiences.”

photo collage showing circles of homemade paper using watermark and embedded string and fiber techniques

The University Libraries Conservation Centre team's homemade paper moon appears cratered thanks to a watermark technique, while a star cutout and planets in a variety of colors include embedded string and other fibers, and watermarked rings reminiscent of Saturn. 

IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries

While 15 of their mobiles were mailed to other participants from the Potomac Chapter’s members reaching as far as Virginia, one will join items received from those participants and added among the University Libraries’ Special Collections.

One set of contributed items has a Penn State alumni connection. It was created by book artist Lawrence Novak, a Penn State math alumnus who worked at NASA. Appropriately, he created a small summer-solstice study guide and a companion small winter-solstice booklet. 

folded four-panel small booklet with graph equations and illustrations of Earth

Penn State alumnus Lawrence Novak, a book artist who graduated with a math degree and worked at NASA, mailed his contribution to the Guild of Book Workers Potomac Chapter’s Summer Solstice Swap of handmade creations. Appropriately, his work included the mathematical equation for a circle in relation to the curved paths of sunlight observed during the summer and winter solstices as depicted across a map of Earth. This work will be added to the University Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections along with the Conservation Centre’s planetary mobile and 14 other original Summer Solstice Swap works shared by chapter members.

IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries

A small image gallery highlighting artifacts sent by Summer Solstice Swap participants is available below. Click on an image to view a larger version.


Last Updated July 10, 2020