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Exhibition: Paste Papers of the Pioneer Valley, January-May 2012

Paste paper by Carol J. Blinn

Paste paper by Carol J. Blinn

Exhibition featuring nineteen decorative papers, Mortimer Rare Book Room, January 15 - May 2012.

The Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts is a national center for the book arts: printing, bookbinding, calligraphy, and paper decoration. Paste Papers of the Pioneer Valley, an exhibition on view until mid-April in Neilson Library at Smith College, celebrates the variety of color, design, and technique of a special type of decorated paper—paste paper—produced as artwork on its own and for use in collages and bookbindings. The nineteen paste paper makers whose works are on display are primarily bookbinders who live and work in the area or who have strong ties here. Some of them are: Carol Blinn, Sarah Creighton, Claudia Cohen, Daniel and Babette Gehnrich, Elisabeth Hyder, Sami Keats, Dan Kelm, and Mark Tomlinson. Also on view is a reproduction of a rare paste paper by master bookbinder Arno Werner (1899-1995), who taught and inspired many of this area, and this country’s, finest bookbinders. The exhibition at Smith also includes eight books bound using paste papers created by some of the paste paper makers whose work is on display.

The paste papers on view are from the Mortimer Rare Book Room’s deluxe copy of Paste Papers of the Pioneer Valley, a book designed by Michael Russem and co-published by Catawba Press (Northampton, MA) and Kat Ran Press (Cambridge, MA) in the fall of 2011. The book also includes brief biographies of the paste paper makers and an introductory essay by the late bookbinder and book designer David P. Bourbeau. Twenty deluxe copies, with boxes handmade by Barbara Blumenthal in Northampton, feature matted original pieces of the papers which were reproduced in three hundred copies of the book printed by Capitol Offset in Concord, New Hampshire.

Paste paper by Meredith Broberg

Paste paper by Meredith Broberg.

David Bourbeau, who made some of the paste papers shown at Smith, described the process in his introductory essay: “Paste paper is basically a mixture of paste … and ground watercolor pigment (or acrylic paint as is more common now), which is applied to dampened paper with brushes, rollers, or sponges. It is then combed, scraped, pulled, or otherwise manipulated into a seemingly unlimited variety of textures and patterns. As the moisture evaporates and the paper dries, light and dark shadows create an interesting three-dimensional effect inherent in this method.”

Michael Russem, a printer and typographic designer, is the proprietor of Kat Ran Press. He has produced numerous limited edition books for many writers, artists, and publishers. Barbara Blumenthal is an independent bookbinder, as well as the rare book specialist in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College. Since 1980, she has designed, bound, and published five books under her Catawba Press imprint, as well as bound hundreds of books for small press publishers and private collectors.


Barbara Blumenthal 
Rare Book Specialist
(413) 586-2906