ArtFarm is an experiment in art and sustainability centered on producing material for hand papermaking.
In 1979, Women’s Studio Workshop was one of the first organizations to offer access to a hand papermaking studio. WSW operated a production mill for ten years, using traditional western papermaking fibers. In 1990, the emphasis began to shift toward working with locally-grown materials and by 1996, WSW established a partnership with a nearby Community Supported Agriculture project. This was the beginning of ArtFarm.
With the help of AmeriCorps volunteers, we grew tried and true plants known to produce papermaking fibers. We also started experimenting with non-traditional fibers so that we could explore new types of paper, using the new fibers on their own or combining them with traditional plants to enhance their known qualities. We planted native and gathered invasive species, testing the materials for their strength, coloring capacities, and print worthiness. We have tested well over 100 plants, provided residencies for artists, and created traveling exhibitions featuring handmade paper art.
Artists work with the fibers for making unusual sheets and as a sculptural medium. WSW’s program was an early proponent of hand papermaking and the first facility to open a studio for artists to freely experiment with the medium. To encourage artists to work with these materials, WSW invited fluxus artist Alison Knowles, sculptor Talya Baharal, and printmaker Ken Gray for residencies focused on experimenting with ArtFarm fibers. The work resulted in a traveling exhibition: From Seed to Sheet. WSW staff artists also present the research at international hand papermaking and book art conferences.
Susan Mills’ twentysix plants is a beautiful testament to handmade paper. Published in 2013, the artist’s book presents 26 pages of paper handmade from 26 everyday plants grown or foraged at ArtFarm. You can look through its pages on our collection page and read more about its production on our blog.
Today, ArtFarm is managed by WSW’s Studio Manager and volunteers. The entire process, from planting to processing, has become integral to our education programs, Summer Art Institute and Hands-on Art. Children from the Kingston Public Schools come to WSW to learn how paper is made and to work with the fiber as an art material and in an innovative chemistry and art class. Our Art-in-Education program has received the highest rating from the New York State Council on the Arts.