Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 1
Mar 1995

The American Museum of Papermaking
New Home to the Dard Hunter Collection

by Cathleen A. Baker

Reprinted with permission, from Bookways, A Quarterly Journal of Book Arts, No. 12, July 1994, p. 7-10. Two dates have been corrected and the last paragraph, telling about the 1994 meeting of the Friends of Dard Hunter, has been omitted.

In 1993 the Institute of Paper Science and Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, opened the doors of its new American Museum of Papermaking. A person unfamiliar with twentieth-century papermaking literature might be forgiven for thinking that this museum represents a newly established collection, but, in fact, the collection began more than eighty years ago.

It was in London in 1911 that a young graphic designer from Ohio, with the rather unusual name of Dard Hunter, started to collect all he could on watermarks, papermaking, and printing. He was so intrigued by those subjects that he gave up his promising design career and returned to America to set up a handmade paper mill, typecasting foundry, and printing press in Marlborough-on-Hudson, New York, a small village just north of Newburgh. By the end of 1916, Hunter had printed two books for the Chicago Society of Etchers that were produced on his handmade paper and printed by his hand with his own designed, cut, and cast type. Those two books, The Etching of Figures by William A. Bradley and The Etching of Contemporary Life by Frank Weitenkampf, are reputed to be the first one-man books ever produced. (The only component of the books that Hunter did not do was the binding.)

Rather than satisfy his quest to make paper and print books, those two quartos served only to further stimulate Hunter to produce really fine paper and books. But first he had to learn more about the processes. One of the things he did to that end was to establish his Library of Papermaking. To gather as much material as possible, he corresponded with book sellers and collectors from around the world, urging them to be on the lookout for anything relating to book production and hand papermaking. He collected not only books about those subjects, but also fine examples of papermaking and printing. Even though he was not a wealthy man, his library grew and grew.

After giving up the Marlborough property and settling his family into the newly purchased and renovated "Mountain House" in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1920, Hunter visited England's few remaining hand papermills. An abandoned mill in Downton, near Salisbury, yielded a treasure of hand papermaking equipment, and Hunter purchased the lot. He shipped it back to Chillicothe with the intention of setting up a commercial mill, but as no suitable property could be found, it was put in storage.

Over the next twenty years, from his private press in Mountain House, he wrote, printed and published six limited edition books on both occidental and oriental hand papermaking. In preparation for those books, he made trips to the South Sea Islands, Indo-China, Siam, and Hong Kong. On each trip he collected the papers and tapa he saw being made, together with any pieces of equipment the natives were willing to give up. Everything was shipped back to Chillicothe, and the house began to bulge.

In 1928 Hunter's dream to set up a commercial hand papermill finally materialized when he bought an iron foundry on the Salmon Fells Kill in Lime Rock, Connecticut. He cleaned up the buildings and moved in the English papermaking equipment. When papermaking began in May 1930, he had high expectations of its success as there were no other mills in America producing handmade paper. He also planned to establish a Paper Museum in one of the mill buildings, but alas all fell through. Although the mill did continue to operate until 1933, it was a financial disaster.

Undeterred, Hunter began to investigate other possibilities for his museum, and in 1938 he signed a ten-year contract with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish the Dard Hunter Paper Museum. In December of that year he and his son, Dard Jr., supervised the move of the collection from Mountain House to the William Barton Rogers building on the MIT campus. They spent the next six months organizing much of the material into specially designed exhibition cases, and the museum opened to much admiration in June 1939.

After the first rush of excitement was over, Hunter's activities as the museum's director gradually decreased, and he became primarily responsible for attending to special visitors. When the ten-year contract was up in 1948, Hunter was sixty-five years old, the mandatory retirement age for all MIT personnel. In order to retain his services (and of course the prestige of the collection, which Hunter continued to own), MIT offered to make him honorary curator. In that capactiy he would continue his affiliation with MIT for five more years, until he was seventy.

In 1949, the museum was moved from the Rogers building to the new Charles Hayden Memorial Library. More space was required because Hunter had continued to travel and collect, and the collection, at the very least, had doubled.

By 1953 when his MIT tenure was supposed to end, Hunter had written six more books, including his masterpiece, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (1943, revised 1947).

In October 1954 the museum moved to Wisconsin. By way of explanation, Hunter wrote to a friend, "You probably know that the Paper Museum was moved from M.I.T. to the Institute of Paper Chemistry, Appleton, Wisconsin. This was due to the fact that the museum had been at M.I.T. long enough (16 years) and also to my age and we all wanted to find a permanent home for the material and the I.P.C. seemed to be the ideal place as everything there is devoted to Paper, while at M.I.T. there was nothing whatever relating to this subject. I was well pleased about the change as I was to retire anyway and my chief desire was to have the Museum where it would be carried on after my demise."

The collection was actually sold to the institute, and in 1953 was valued for insurance purposes at $100,000, although the purchase price was substantially smaller than that amount. In January 1958, Hunter wrote, "The Museum at the Ins. of Paper Chem. is about as you saw it at M.I.T. I like it better where it is as the I.P.C. is a much more appropriate place for the collection. It will remain there permanently, I hope." In a poignant letter dated June 1963, Hunter wrote, "As I look back over the years, my only feeling is that my life has been wasted. In the present world the only things that count are rush and speed and a desire to get to the moon. My work has been totally unspectacular. If I have done anything worthwhile, it is in the establishment of the Paper Museum." In 1966 Hunter died at age eight-two.

By 1981 most of the exhibited artifacts, papers, and books had been on display for over forty years. That fact was not lost on a small group of papermakers and paper and book conservators who realized that those artifacts were deteriorating from exposure to high light and relative humidity levels. In that year they formed the Friends of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum. The purpose of the group was to "promote the welfare of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum by maintaining an independent organization of individuals interested in the collection as a part of the world's cultural heritage; providing channels of information between its membership and the Institute [IPC]; and promoting the scholarly use and physical welfare of the collection through projects undertaken cooperatively with the Institute's trustees and staff." One of the immediate projects involved the placement of UV-absorbing filters on the fluorescent lights and installation of dehumidifiers. Over the next seven years of so, the FDHPM continued to advise and even suggest long-term goals for the museum, but essentially the institute could not implement many of those plans because of financial difficulties and other priorities.

In 1988 and 1989, the IPC, with help from the FDHPM, did receive two Institute of Museum Services grants, which enabled it to begin a conservation survey of the collection. The survey was never completed, however, because in 1989, exactly fifty years after the museum opened at MIT, the Institute prepared for a move to Atlanta, Georgia. The second IMS grant was used to ensure that the collection was packed to conservation standards. The IPC changed its name to the Institute for Paper Science and Technology and established headquarters on the campus of Georgia Tech. The Dard Hunter Collection went into storage.

The institute announced in 1991 that the Dard Hunter Paper Museum would be renamed the American Museum of Papermaking. The following year the FDHPM decided to change its name to the Friends of Dard Hunter. The new name acknowledged the fact that for many years the group's activities had been expanding beyond its concerns for the collection to a much broader one of education and promoting, through meetings and publications, the many interests that inspired Dard Hunter.

The new IPST building that contains the American Museum of Papermaking officially opened in 1993, and that October the FDH held its annual meeting in Atlanta. The eager participants, including this writer, who had waited five years to see the collection again, were treated to a wonderful opening and reception. We were impressed with the design of the museum, which is in a small but well-utilized space. The didactic materials are clearly written and presented and, in some ways, are easier to understand than those in the old museum. The AMP does not assume, as the DHPM often did, that the visitor has a good knowledge of papermaking. The new museum also includes a small room devoted to the life and work of Dard Hunter. Unlike the old Dard Hunter Paper Museum, there is much less emphasis on printing and its relationship to papermaking. However, there is much more information on the many modern uses for paper, and that is perfectly appropriate for an institute that is supported by the pulp and paper industry. The museum's gift shop sells papers, paper-related items, and books.

The institute deserves a lot of credit for committing valuable space and a strategic location within its showcase building for the museum. Nevertheless, I do have some concerns. Most of the collection is not on display, and this irreplaceable material must be accessible to scholars and researchers. The institute has made assurances that in time it will be. Obviously, a great deal of work must go into preparing the collection for such accessibility. It must be catalogued and properly rehoused in a secure and controlled environment. Neither of those tasks can be inexpensively or quickly done. Sufficient money, time, and expertise must be allocated, and it will probably be several years before routine access to the collection becomes a reality.

To date, I have not seen any printed material associated with the American Museum of Papermaking that mentions that its predecessor was the Dard Hunter Paper Museum. As noted above, there is museum space allocated to Dard Hunter, but it is not obvious to the newcomer what he has to do with the collection. Perhaps as cataloguing progresses, some sort of notation, e.g. DHC (Dard Hunter Collection) with an accession number, will denote those items collected by Hunter as opposed to those items acquired later. A brochure would also help to clarify Hunter's affiliation.*

It is important for us to appreciate the legacy that Dard Hunter has imparted to us through his collection and his books. At the very least, we owe it to him, to ourselves, and to future generations to insure that this collection, no matter what name is affixed to it, remains accessible through exhibition and study.

For more information about the museum, contact the American Museum of Papermaking, Institute of Paper Science & Technology, 500 10th St. NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30318-5794, 404/853-9500. Information on the Friends of Dard Hunter, Inc., can be obtained by writing to the Membership Committee, Box 50, HCR 34, Montpelier, Vermont 05602.

*Since this article appeared, most of my concerns have been eliminated. -CAB

The author has been working for the last few years on a biography of Dard Hunter, and resigned her tenured position in the Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College in 1993 to enable her to work full time on the project. She has been living in Mountain House in Chillicothe, where the bulk of the Hunter archives are located. The book, entitled By His Own Labor, is scheduled to go to press in September 1996 at the University of Alabama's Institute of Book Arts. That will be the special edition. A trade edition also is planned.

Ms. Baker, a widely respected paper conservator and teacher, decided a few years ago that she needed to know more about the artifacts she was working with, so she studied fine printing, printmaking, papermaking and bookbinding for a year and a half in the fine arts program at Syracuse University. She served two terms as president of the Friends of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum before beginning work on the book.

Since Hunter did write an autobiography, it is reasonable to wonder why another biography is necessary. Ms. Baker answered this question at a conference a few years ago, saying that he glossed over some portions of his life, e.g., the Roycroft years; and that a few facts about dates, etc., were in error.

In order to finance this work, she has approached the big foundations, but has succeeded only in winning one small grant. In December she asked friends and family to help her meet expenses during this next year and a half, and has almost met her goal, thanks also to donations from people in Friends of Dard Hunter. She could make good use of additional funds for travel, however, to important archives holding Hunter papers, and for visits to people who knew Hunter personally. Readers who are interested in helping this project can contact Cathleen Baker at PO Box 717, Chillicothe, OH 45601-0717 (phone and fax 614/774-1236).

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