The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 3, Number 2
May 1990

Exhibition on History of Papermaking at New York Public Library

"On Paper: The History of an Art," on view in the New York Public Library's Gottesman Exhibition Hall from October 13, 1990 through January 19, 1991, surveys the 2,000-year history of paper, from its precursors such as Babylonian clay tablets to handmade papers used by such contemporary artists as Jasper Johns.

The majority of the items on view are drawn from the Leonard B. Schlosser Collection on the History of Papermaking, presented to the Library by Mr. Schlosser in 1986. This collection, which encompasses over 3,000 rare volumes, drawings, broadsides, and decorated papers, is housed in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, and will be accessible to researchers and scholars following the exhibition. many other items in the collection are on loan from the Dard Hunter Paper Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and private collections.

Containing over 200 books, illuminated manuscripts, prints, drawings, decorated papers, paper moulds, and historic tools, the exhibition explores paper's role in transmitting ideas in both written and artistic form. The exhibition opens with an overview of paper's forerunners, and contains sections documenting paper's invention in China and its further development and introduction in Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. Other sections focus on paper in the West, innovative papermaking techniques and the search for new sources of fibers; the evolution of papermaking machinery; the deterioration and conservation of paper; the 20th-century revival of hand papermaking; and the creative uses of rare and unusual papers by major artists in a rich selection of prints, illustrated books, and artists' books.

Robert Rainwater, the exhibition's curator, said, "Paper has played a crucial role in the documentation of history and in the creation of art, and this exhibition will help stimulate awareness and renew interest in its importance. In addition, the exhibition will offer an opportunity for scholars, artists, and the general public to become familiar with the incomparable research materials in the Library's Schlosser Collection."

Although legend credits a Chinese court official Ts'ai Lun (d. 121 AD) with inventing paper about 105 AD, recent evidence dates paper's appearance some two to three hundred years earlier. Among the highlights of China's contribution to paper are a signed woodblock printed prayer sheet from Dunhuang, dated 947, and an original Buddhist woodblock (1100 AD or before). Important loans to the exhibition include two historic Chinese paper moulds acquired by the eminent paper historian Dard Hunter, as well as paper made by him using one of these Chinese moulds.

From China, papermaking spread to Korea by the sixth century and around the globe; the exhibition contains superb and beautiful objects illustrating paper's unique applications in countries such as Japan, Tibet, Thailand, India, and Turkey. Papermaking in the West is thoroughly explored, including such facets as process and watermarks, with examples of early printing on paper in Europe and America. Among the highlights of this section are a woodcut illustration (1568) by Jost Amman considered to be the earliest known Western representation of a papermaker; an original Gutenberg Bible (ca. 1455); one of two known copies of A Sparke of Friendship and Warme Goodwill (1588) by the British poet Churchyard, who offers the first description of paper in English; and a sample of the earliest paper made in North America by William Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, builder of the first paper mill 300 years ago.

Other items of note include a series of books produced in 1786 by Leorier Delisle, a director of paper mills in France, who experimented with paper from natural materials such as hazelnuts, elm wood, bark and leaves; five original mechanical drawings of the paper machine (ca. 1801) by its inventor, the Frenchman Nicholas-Louis Robert, along with a 1984 model of the same machine; and a beautiful marbled autograph book from Constantinople (1581-83), the Liber Amicorum of Friedrich Praxin von Spandau.

"On Paper: The History of an Art" is open free of charge, from Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. Free guided tours of the exhibition will be offered daily at 12:30 and 2:30 pm.

This exhibition is made possible by a generous gift from Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

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