Are you familiar with Potter Richard Bresnahan? Recently I watched “Clay, Wood, Fire, Spirit: The Pottery of Richard Bresnehan.” Seeing the way in which Bresnehan works has changed the way I think about my own studio practice.
As a papermaker, I spend a 5-10 hours each week in “maintenance tasks,” and only 2-4 hours each week actually at the vat with the mold and deckle pulling sheets. I frequently show up to midweek progress checkups with my professor with nothing more than a few sheets of paper. This used to make me feel as though I was not doing enough work, or was wasting my time on this craft. After seeing this documentary, I see that all of the work that leads up to the final product is important, maybe even as important as the art itself.
I love the way that Bresnehan locally sources his materials and processes them, instead of buying them. This means that he is getting the most natural, highest quality materials at no cost. He also uses his connections to people to access materials and equipment, a sort of collaboration. I have begun to make recycled paper instead of ordering linters. I set up a box in the printmaking studio, where people can donate their print scraps to me. Printing papers are notoriously high quality, being almost 100% cotton rag. These scraps would normally go into a conventional recycling bin, where they would be mixed in with thousands of pounds of wood pulps and pressed into cereal boxes, or something equally gross. I take advantage of this material’s inherent quality, and recycle it back into useably sized print papers, some of which I donate back to printmakers.
Bresnehan’s teaching philosophy is also something that I have taken to heart. He thinks that the measure of the success of his life is not in his pottery, but in how much his students have learned. As the paper studio technician, I have a unique position to help people improve their papermaking craft, and to spread the knowledge of this unique process. When people learn about my papermaking, they often ask me to teach them, or to collaborate with them on a specific project. While I used to see these sorts of projects as intrusions on my main studio practice, I now see no reason why teaching can’t be an integral part of my studio practice.
Seeing Bresnehan at the wheel, in a sort of Zen state, pulling identical cups off of the wheel, encouraged me to slow down at the vat, and to pull each sheet as if it were a gift.