On the Trail of Paper at Berkshire Museum

Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine, Earthtone Series, folded paper, courtesy the artists, courtesy Berkshire Museum

Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine, Earthtone Series, folded paper, courtesy the artists, courtesy Berkshire Museum

by Seth Rogovoy

(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Score another home run for Berkshire Museum for the brand-new exhibition, PaperWorks: The Art and Science of an Extraordinary Material, another in a series of original shows brainstormed and curated by director of interpretation Maria Mingalone (Taking Flight: Audubon and the World of Birds; Rethink! American Indian Art; Armed and Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal; MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen) that illuminates its subjects in interdisciplinary fashion (employing history, science, and art in the great tradition of Berkshire Museum) while making viewers see the most commonplace around them with new eyes. You really couldn’t ask for more from a museum exhibition, and PaperWorks delivers.

The show explores paper as a source of creative inspiration and innovation and features contemporary works of art by more than 30 artists, all made from paper, as well as an array of objects and artifacts that show the uses of paper in industry, science, fashion, and technology. PaperWorks will be on view through October 26, 2013.

Both tracing the history and science of the creation and usage of paper, the exhibition displays this ubiquitous substance employed for ancient religious texts (in Hebrew, Arabic and Sanskrit); early trading currency; jewelry; clothing; sandpaper; wallpaper; water filtration paper; banknotes; and, of course, artworks – works on paper and works of paper, including sculpture, elaborate papercuts (from the hand-hewn to laser cuts), and even paper animation. Among the artwork of note are three-dimensional framed wall sculptures by Berkshire artist Dai Ban created specifically for this exhibition.

The exhibition delights in aha! moments. A huge, canoe-like boat is actually made entirely of shellac-coated paper; apparently, it is indeed river-worthy. And a tent-like shelter, designed by California architect Tina Hovsepian and made entirely of cardboard (which she told me at the opening is merely fluted paper), is currently being manufactured at a cost of $10 apiece as a first-response homeless or emergency shelter, with a foundation already formed to implement housing solutions borne of paper.

Matthew Shlian, Me and Fred, folded paper, courtesy the artist, courtesy Berkshire Museum

Matthew Shlian, Me and Fred, folded paper, courtesy the artist, courtesy Berkshire Museum

The exhibition spends some time and space delineating the essential role that the rise of cotton played in the development of modern paper, a topic close to the hearts and pocketbooks of those here in the Berkshires, a region once lousy with paper mills and, of course, long home to Crane & Company, which to this day supplies the paper for U.S. currency as well as that of many other nations. It was the Crane family, of course, that founded Berkshire Museum 110 years ago, bringing things around full circle. Museum founder Zenas Crane was a third-generation papermaker whose descendants are still making fine paper in the Berkshires. In fact, the portion of the exhibition that explores the history of paper around the world includes objects loaned by the Crane Museum of Papermaking.

“Strong, thin, pliable, printable” says the wall text – these are the qualities that have made paper so versatile and essential. It’s what makes you see it everywhere in your house – just look around you – in the bathroom, kitchen, on your desk, in your mailbox, on your walls. The digital era was supposedly going to subsume paper, but for better or worse, that hasn’t happened and most likely won’t.

 

 

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