An Interview With Artist Helen Hiebert
In college I stumbled upon the Book Arts and my trajectory was changed forever. After discovering the world of letterpress printing and book binding, I took a hand papermaking class and fell in love. The author of our textbook, The Papermaker’s Companion, was a paper artist named Helen Hiebert. Under her informative instructions, I dried and cooked prairie grasses that I later formed into sheets of paper. Now, with a degree under my belt and some life experience in my pocket, it feels only fitting that we at Two Hands Paperie are hosting Helen for the Visiting Artist series. Helen Hiebert is an internationally-known, Colorado artist who has been working primarily with paper for over 25 years. She has written five instructional books on hand papermaking and other paper crafts.
On Saturday, May 2nd we will be hosting a book signing from 4:30-5:30pm with Helen at Two Hands Paperie. This book signing is to replace the cancelled Spot Light Friday Event. Want to learn more about Helen’s processes? The information from Helen’s books will come to life two classes she is teaching! Playing with Paper on Saturday May 2nd 10:30- 4:30 pm and Collapsible, Inflatable Paper Class on Sunday May 3rd 11:30-4:30 pm both at Two Hands! There are still spots in the classes, so don’t hesitate to sign up.
In addition to writing books, she’s a regular contributor to the quarterly Hand Papermaking Newsletter and is vice president of the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists. She has a permanet installation at AnyThink Huron Street Library in Thornton, Colorado called The Wish. This giant dandelion sculpture is made of wishes collected from the library community and participants in 38 states and 23 countries. Helen explained the power of the sculpture: “As you walk into the room, there is a sound component that starts to play. You hear wishes: some might be familiar wishes that you’ve had yourself, and others might make you feel compassion or empathy for the wisher you are listening to.” It is a powerful visual that is well worth a look. On the less serious note, (but just as cool) she has appeared on Sesame Street.
We asked Helen some questions to get to know her a little better:
Two Hands Paperie: Where did you learn to make paper? How long have you been a papermaker?
Helen Hiebert: I first discovered that paper could be made by hand (I’d never even thought about it) when I was in art school in Germany as an exchange student in college. We did all sorts of things with paper, from folding and cutting to sculpting, and we made paper, but that didn’t grab me then. I was more interested in pop-ups at that point, how you could cut, fold and transform a sheet of paper into three dimensions. About 3 years later I had the opportunity to go to Japan on vacation with my parents, and I was struck by the light filtering through the traditional shoji screens. A light bulb went off and I decided to pursue hand papermaking, thinking that I would have to do this in Japan. But I was living in NYC and soon found a small papermaking studio (Dieu Donné Papermill) where I first signed on as an intern and was then hired as program director. I worked there for 6 years in the early-mid 1990’s. I’ve been making paper for 24 years, but I’d call myself an artist first.
THP: How do you develop your new techniques and keep papermaking interesting? What inspires you?
HH: There are so many ways to work with paper, and this is what fascinates me. Historically, papermaking was an industry and not an art form. It has been just 50 years or so since artists have figured out how to work with paper in innovative and exciting ways. Since I came into this about 25 years ago, I consider myself to still be on the cutting edge of this medium. My how-to books don’t just cover hand papermaking, but they also extend into paper crafts, and they give me a good reason to research and write about what is going on in the field. I am constantly inspired by the world around me, and I love figuring out how things work technically. But I am also interested in the ways that we human beings connect to each other, and my artwork reflects these issues.
THP: How has your work evolved over time? What are you working on now?
HH: Early in my career when I was working at the paper studio, I was also taking classes in book arts. My early work was more product based – lamps and lanterns – and I enjoyed figuring out ways to bring light into paper.At some point I became more interested in installation work and started working larger and involving the community in my projects. See above for descriptions of two of my community installation projects. I’m about to turn 50, and right now I’m working on a series of pieces that will include 50 words (collected from my on-line network) relating to Mother/Motherhood/Our Mothers.
It is an honor to host Helen Hiebert at Two Hands Paperie for the first weekend of May! If you want to know more about Helen, you can visit her website or her blog. Be sure to come to the free event on May 2nd at Two Hands Paperie and reserve your spot in her classes while room is still available. I am pretty sure she is the only Sesame Street star who has graced the Two Hands Paperie Visiting Artist list, so don’t miss out!