Practice of Art Student Emma Mohrmann ’24 on the Art of Paper Making

March 25, 2023

Emma Mohrmann, a junior in the A&A Practice of Art track, recently participated in visual artist Kyoko Ibe’s paper-making workshop, hosted by Visual Arts Lecturer Daniel Heyman at 185 Nassau.  Having worked in paper previously, Mohrmann was inspired to dive back into her own work.  Ibe’s work has been woven into “Washi Tales” or tales inspired by traditional Japanese paper making, most recently in the production of Reginald Dwayne Betts’ Felon: An American Washi Tale, performed at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, for which Ibe designed the set using paper.

Below, Morhmann treats us to her own washi tale….


My Paper-Making Experience

by Emma Mohrmann ’24

I loved the process of papermaking that Kyoko Ibe and Daniel Heyman demonstrated. I appreciate how much patience it takes and all of the effort that goes into the preparation of the fiber (harvesting, peeling, beating, soaking, mixing it with the okra, etc.) before it even gets to be sifted into paper. I also loved how Kyoko and Daniel talked about the power of the pulp and the water. There was something really cool about almost letting the materials take over in the process. Everyone embraced the imperfections in the paper making process and the final sheet outcomes; I found the semi-bubbled-up sheets that developed accidental folds really beautiful. 

A patchwork of Emma Mohrmann's handmade paper is spread out on a colorful piece of wood.

I am currently working on sewing together a bunch of sheets of handmade “paper” that I made over winter break, and may include that sheet I made in the workshop in that. The paper I made in the summer was made out of old Amazon shipping boxes, bills, and other old mail that was going to be shredded. I’m really interested in how paper looks like skin. I’m also really into urban studies and the consequences of gridding cities and the social factors that play out behind neat maps (and the old paper these maps are often on.) Reclaiming these “cells” in both a skin sense and a city grid sense by adding a more messy human element to them interests me. Specifically by reusing these discards from consumerism, and instead using a jagged, slow sewing process, I hope to bring more process-based, slow humanity to these optimized things. I want to include my imperfect sheet of paper I made during Kyoko’s workshop in my quilt-like thing.

Emma Mohrmann sifting blue paper over a tub of blue water

I have begun to make my own paper in a very makeshift way here too and am trying to figure out what materials best convey things I am passionate about. So far, I have been using more shipping boxes, and also old denim, that I hope to make prints on later. I’m interested in the history of labor behind both of these materials, and the lives lived in clothes before they came into my hands.

Concerning the Eternal Rights of Women (inspired by a quote in The Awakening) was my first attempt at making paper! I have been trying to experiment with more “process art” where the process itself is intrinsic to subject/ product. I am also interested in more craft-based art that has been traditionally done by women throughout history.  After the Supreme Court decision in June, I decided to take out my emotions through art. Coincidentally, I found a $2 copy of (St. Louisan!!) Kate Chopin’s The Awakening at the Goodwill near me, which was one of the first feminist texts I read in high school that made me really think about autonomy as a woman, what rights women have over their sexuality, body, passion and emotions, and what expectations society holds them to, and overall the power of choice.

Pale pink handmade paper sewn along the center with burgundy yarn.

Emma Mohrmann, Concerning the Eternal Rights of Women (2022)

To make the paper, I shredded up the entire book, in the same way so many of our rights as women got shredded up with the Supreme Court’s decision. I wrote a bunch of my emotions out on other pieces of paper and statements that made me feel a sense of solidarity, and just generally did mad scribble art, and cathartically put all of that in the shredder too. Then I blended up the pulp to oblivion, the original bodies transformed into one large pulp mass, individual rights gone…

Then I sifted out the paper onto old clothes to form the sheets.

I wanted to represent abstract vagina/labia-ish shapes sewn up, controlled, closed off, etc., also using sewing, traditionally a woman’s art form, functional but less valued than male European painting etc. Then, I incorporated petals in various stages of life and decay. Women (and their genitalia) are often represented through flowers. What does it mean to value women for their fertility and what value do women have to their society when they don’t have kids? Are women just objects of beauty to be looked at or put in a vase or reproduce, but beyond that what are our rights if we do not own our own bodies? Also, these new laws cause more economic disparity and class divide, along with gender setbacks. I also have a protest print and drawing. 

Handmade, rustic paper the color of cardboard

Emma Mohrmann, Sowing (2022)

Sowing is another papermaking piece I made in the summer. I again wanted the process and material to match the subject. I used only recycled materials and made the paper out of random papers and magazines in our recycling bin. I also included old weeds from our yard and lots of cottonwood fiber from a bike ride. I purposefully left the seeds in the cottonwood fiber to add texture and show the materiality. The prints were made on a block of wood I dumpster dived for, all to make us think of how we use natural resources and our waste. 

Subject wise, I experienced a lot of life cycles this summer- so much plant growth around me, rain bringing mushrooms and vegetables (and also weeds), chicks giving birth and goats milking, and also experiencing death (of animals I picked up by their feet, and also human death that ripples through many layers of people)… thinking about life as a gift from seeds and thinking about the (woman positive!!) creation story of sky woman who brought seeds and created the earth. I was trying to see more things as life giving gifts like seeds.

On that note, I think of the sieve that the paper pulp goes through as a meditative process, to catch and let go, to take less, reuse more. Plant and leave seeds for the future. Exchange instead of use. Notice small beauties, like intricate tree bark patterns.