In a digital world, paper is close to obsolete. We are all pushing towards a paperless existence — a good thing for the environment and the space in our filing cabinets (which may also become obsolete). Paper for me, however, is for drawing my heart out.
When I was a little girl, I drew on every sheet of paper that was not in an adult’s hand and that I could get my hands on. Later I would make paper from various pulp mixtures in college and then at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts. I would spend hours with a dear friend helping her select sheets for a self-promotion project at the Paper Depot (now sadly closed for good). As a graphic designer, I poured over paper swatch books and would order samples to try. When I was freelancing, my clients were either small businesses or nonprofits with tiny budgets. It made the paper selection narrower, none of the fancy high-end sheets I dreamed of using for print projects.
At my studio, I have dozens of large sheets of artisan and handmade papers waiting for me to put marks on them. Some are so beautiful that I am waiting for the right subject to strike me though I know I should just start. There are the even larger sheets of Mulberry paper in warm pale colors I purchased at Wet Paint in St. Paul the year before the pandemic hit. I have several artist drawing journals, little pocket sketchbooks, accordion-style books for drawing panoramic, and tablets for drawing using ink, color pencil, or graphite pencils No. 2 through the lights and darkest of leads.
Since I transitioned frommy professional life as a graphic designer to my vocation as a visual artist, I’m examining all kinds of surfaces to lay down marks such as wood and canvas. Paper that typically is not seen as paper for making art is not off-limits. After unwrapping the shrimp that was to be our dinner, I took a second look at the white saw-toothed edged paper covering it within the store-branded butcher paper. The white paper was sturdy enough for washing (till it no longer smelled of shrimp), and then I flattened it out to dry.
It proved to be a challenging surface – the sturdiness comes from the wax coating that wasn’t obvious at first. It made my Micron ink pen nearly give up. Color pencils didn’t give the same fuss when adding hues to my experimental drawing. I’m saving sheets of Kraft brown butcher paper to work on, making marks on the non-waxy side, of course.
It makes me think the little girl who drew on any sheet of paper she could get her hands on has not left me. Even though I have beautiful sheets at my disposal, it’s still freeing to try out ideas on the scrappiest of scrap paper just to see if a spark takes hold. Perhaps that’s why some of the world’s greatest inventions started on a paper napkin.
Things come to us quietly, in whispers, as it should be. Most of us recoil from loud noise or when someone or something is shouting at us. But whispers, like serendipity, are something I pay attention to — not in a “woo-woo” sort of way (I’m seriously allergic to woo), it’s more about patterns, nudges, and asking “why does this keep showing up” sort of thing.
Braiding Sweetgrass is just one such whisper. It first came to my briefest attention back in 2013 when I was taking a writing class at The Loft.The Loft is housed inside the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts where I have also taken classes in letterpress and bookbinding. There is was, in the lobby, this simple, elegant introduction to MCBA’s Winter Book, Minidewak Readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. There would be a reading event and author’s reception. Did I attend? I wish I had been brave enough. I was fearful of driving at night in winter and even more reluctant to attend events solo. At the time, I don’t even think I entertained the idea of going, even though it was free and open to the public. The question I always hold on to is “would I fit in, enough to be present and enjoy myself?”
But I held on to the little printed piece promoting Minidewak. It remains displayed in my studio as if a reminder of something I hadn’t figured out yet. I didn’t even look up who the author was or what her life’s journey was that lead her to write her book — which is so odd. I’m naturally a very curious person.
It wasn’t until almost another winter had ended six years later, that I ran across Wild Ones Minnesota Annual Conference being held at the University of St. Thomas in February. It would have been a wonderful conference to attend, even solo, but a waiting list and my poor timing blocked the possibility. One of the conference speakers was Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., who would talk about healing and restoring our relationship with nature. There was her name again from the little printed piece I have sitting in my studio.
There in the online write-up about the exhibit, it noted Hejny’s inspiration for her work — the teachings of the Honorable Harvest as recorded by Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. There was her name again and the title of her book, just as it was on the little printed piece sitting in my studio.
So now I have a little over six years of whispers and a certain amount of FOMO* setting in. It hurts being an anxious introvert at times. Latent curiosity aside, I really wanted to find out what was it about Robin Wall Kimmerer and her work that kept coming into my view.
* Fear Of Missing Out
I wrote her name on a yellow post-it note and headed to the local library. I find books easily enough in the Fiction section but things get fuzzy finding a title in the Non-Fiction stacks. Luckily, a young librarian had just finished helping another patron stopped and asked “can I help you find something.” I showed him my post-it and it was if he had actually met the author. He knew exactly what I was looking for. A quick check on his mobile declared the library didn’t have a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass and it was on hold at another branch. (Some days I feel like my whole life is on hold). Had I heard of Hoopla, he asked, “you can download the audio book, it’s read by the author and her voice makes it worthwhile listening.” He had obviously listened to her book before. It was like another whisper.
So now I’m in my studio, working on a large drawing, listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer read from her book Braiding Sweetgrass. The young librarian was right. It’s not just a worthwhile listen, it’s wholeheartedly worthwhile.
From what I have gathered from all the whispers is that Robin Wall Kimmerer has inspired a lot of people, not just artists. I for one, would embrace living in a gift economy based on reciprocity and gratitude. It would flip the whole wage economy, consumerism, and private property on its head. Imagine Congress commencing its session with the Thanksgiving Address. Things might actually get done in an equitable and just way for all people.
I don’t mean to exaggerate that shifting our mindsets to those Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently tells in story would cure all our country’s ills, but it would be productive, healing place to start. It would have to be a collective mindset to happen of which I’m not certain we are ready for but am hopeful that a majority are moving towards knowing that living in balance with nature will be our saving grace. Listening to her words has opened me to a way of thinking and being in the natural world that I’ve always felt but never effectively articulated.
You could say whispers are gifts.
Originally posted on May 6, 2019 at kristin-peterson.com, our old debunked website. Moving a few good posts over here.
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Terra Kind Studio is the creation of visual artist and designer Kristin Maija Peterson. Here we will post what inspires us, work in progress moments, and occasionally the good stuff that brings us joy.
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