Blog Post from Lorne, Victoria 27 June 2023
I left home on June 9 so have now been away 18 days. This has seen my partner drive over 2,000 km with me navigating and route planning. We arrived on June 12 just in time to set up my first Victorian solo exhibition, Paper Hero at The Ladder Artspace, Kew. With the help of Emily we got the space set up in one afternoon-evening. The opening happened two days later, on Thursday June 15. Some wonderful loyal friends attended, some from 48 years ago when I spent some time in the Southern states. I belong to a group of artists convened by the resourceful Heather Matthew, Art from your Heart, and through this group I had some other local friends to invite to the opening. One of the Art from your Heart members, Silvana Benacchio, was unable to attend on the Thursday night, but since I had a few weeks to fill in until July 1 when the exhibition ends, she asked if I would facilitate a paper-making workshop at her studio in Geelong with a group of her creative friends.
How could we make this happen? I left home with a carload of artwork, hardly enough space for a suitcase for each of us, certainly no equipment. However, the universe pulled everything together in a remarkable way. I found a resourceful papermaker who makes moulds and deckles (the key ingredient for papermaking) just half an hour from Silvana at Queenscliff who freely offered to lend us the moulds and deckles, vats, cloths, sponges and other items we needed. Tim Spencer, retired art teacher, generously lent us the equipment we needed – to a person he had never met before who was a fellow paper-maker! It seems we can trust in the fellowship of paper-lovers and this was further proved in the days that followed.
Next we needed pulp for the vats. Again the solidarity of “makers” stepped in. Silvana’s friend and fibre artist, Mags Wells, gave us some massive bunches of red hot poker that she had salvaged from weeding. I had never used this fibre before, (but I hope to again). I also trimmed a few lomandras that were overhanging the path at the Ballarat Eureka Centre, on the theory that important historical sites yield strong fibres. At Dandenong markets I found okra, a plant which yields a viscous gel that helps fibres stay in suspension, so I bought a kilo. I arrived In Geelog two nights before the workshop, and Silvana and I got together with scissors. We cut up the lomandra, the red hot poker and some other cumbunji stalks that Mags had given us and soaked them in alkali water. Next morning, Silvana began the task of pre-cooking the fibres to save time in the workshop.
On Sunday morning, 6 dedicated papermakers turned up. The day was rainy and extremely cold. I started the workshop with the explanations and theory over a hot cuppa in Silvana’s warm dining room, but soon it was time to don the beanies and puffer jackets and plunge our hands into cold, cold pulp. I was impressed with the stoic way the participants dealt with the conditions, but we were all buoyed along by the really marvelous results of our improvised materials. We had another warm-up for lunch with Silvana’s hot soup and bread, but they all rallied afterwards to learn the possibilities of multiple-couching. An artist’s work is often rather solitary, so opportunities like this to work with others and experiment are very uplifting. In a sense we were warmed by each other’s company and the fire of creativity. A lovely post-script was provided by one of the participants who wrote the next day
Today I am reflecting on the wonderful workshop you created for a group of creative women at Silvana’s home, I loved every moment. The kookaburras are laughing outside my window as I write this to you, a sign of my joy…. Zela you’re a gift to the world, a huge thank you for all you gave. I hope I can meet you again in time or attend another workshop. All the best. Judith
Far from home and knowing hardly anyone, all this was able to happen! I do not believe things like this are coincidental, I am sure each of these people were destined to meet and meant to encourage each other along in our creative journeys.