Natural Cycles

Natural Cycles: Sustainability in Book and Paper Arts

Brushwood House, Ryerson Woods Preserve, November 6 – December 23, 2011, curated by Shawn Sheehy and Melissa Jay Craig

Here’s a quick tour of (most of) the show:

And here are the artists, with bits of their statements about the works in the show, relating to sustainability, and an image.  Click on names for links to individual sites (if available).


Lisa Barcy

Grub (flip book)

This piece came about after reading various articles about the nascent movement that encourages people to eat bugs as a sustainable source of protein.  The book is a 1920’s farmers manual on insect control so I thought this would be an appropriate use repurposing as it encouraged the use of some rather nasty pesticides.

Heather L.G. Bella

Music & Measures 1, Music & Measures 2

Looking at the progressive obsolescence of technology, these books explore how we remember music, both visually and concretely.  Using the book form – also a slowly dwindling format – we consider the rapid transmutation of information delivery as well as a nostalgic nod to beloved formats rarely used – or completely obsolete- in modern society.  Created with old cassette tape (magnetic tape), tape cases, handmade paper, old sheet music, and small bits of broken tape players; these artist books are 100% recycled.

Zina Castañuela

The Issue, The Idea, What It Could Mean

This group of sculptures was created as a suggestion to anyone interested in viewing, touching or thinking about these pieces—a suggestion to them to open their minds and start looking back as well as looking forward when researching solutions to the issues effecting our environment and economy in these hard times. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.


Suzanne Cohan-Lange


I am concerned with the long and uneasy relationship our culture has had with nature. Our tendency is either to destroy it or decorate it – but sadly, never to learn from it. In spite of plentiful warnings, we continue to trap and become entrapped in our own cages of comfort and convenience.

Melissa Jay Craig

That’s Life, Passage, Intrinsic

In these works, I imply narratives authored by the organisms of a beleaguered planet, set forth in languages long overlooked by humanity’s intellectual arrogance. My medium of choice is paper made from fibers that I process and sometimes harvest myself. Made from plants, it is a material derived directly from my conceptual catalysts, involving me physically as well as metaphorically in the perpetual cycles that intrigue me.


Erin Cramer

Deer, Gray Wolf, Wolf, Mountain Lion

I like to use handmade paper as a sculpting medium because it is light weight yet durable, and it can mimic anything from concrete to fur. The paper that I make is recyclable and sustainable because it is made from fibers such as flax, cotton, and garden scraps. 


Marnie Galloway

In Defense of Common Weeds

In the Sounds And Seas – Volume 1

An important part of my practice both in my print and book work is accessibility and sustainability. It is important to me, and a challenge, to produce work that is affordable and accessible without sacrificing quality of materiality or meaning.  Purchasing materials that are produced local to the Midwest and working closely with studios and presses that support green practices and engage with the local community is a self-sustaining part of my production process.


Karen Hanmer

Pride Prejudice Passion: Whirlwind (carousel book)

Pride Prejudice Passion: Head Over Heels (Jacob’s ladder)

Pride Prejudice Passion:Tunnel of Love (tunnel book)

I received the invitation to participate in this exhibit during a summer marked by five extended power outages, prompting an interest in reducing my need for electricity and the computer to create my work. This work was created solely from repurposed and already-purchased materials. Use of materials and electricity was kept to a minimum by limiting the number of test prints, and computer layout and internet search time.


Jill Lanza

Hello Rock, Goodbye Vending Machine

My family has begun to recycle. 75% of our trash is now recycled. I have stacks of paper and items collected, materials that can be used for my work. And as I no longer drive to work, I spend my long train ride as creative time. This hand bound journal records the green changes in my life through both text and image: containing recycled materials, and created during time usually spent wasting energy.


Elisabeth Long

The Earth’s Thin Crust (four tunnel books)

Inspired by the strange and fantastical landscape in Yellowstone National Park, The Earth’s Thin Crust is a reflection on the roiling power of nature hidden just below the apparently placid surface. Walking this magnificent caldera where the divide between solid ground and the earth’s boiling center is at its thinnest, one is reminded that nature’s constancy lies only in its eternal change.

These geothermal pools are reinterpreted as tunnel books made from cotton paper stained with natural earth pigments and dyes.  The paper is made from recovered cotton linters that are a by-product of the cotton industry.  The pigments are dug from the earth, as they have been for thousands of years, and processed in a plant in Germany that runs on renewable energy derived from a stream running though the plant. My artistic process involves turning the pigments into watercolors.


Leah Mayers

Constellation Prize: Star Maps for Urban Dwellers

We are stardust. We are a billion year old carbon.

Flowers by Irene: Law Enforcement Haiku Zine

Leah Mayers creates book-like structures and environments and teaches people how to read them.


Teresa Pankratz  

Bird Houses: 1 to 7 (Marnette’s story begins…)

The fire-damaged salt and pepper shakers, china cups and figurines housed in Bird Houses: 1 to 7 (Marnette’s story begins…) are objects that have long since passed through the normal, natural cycle of acquisition, use and loss. The protagonist of the Bird Houses narrative recognizes the “persistent uselessness” of these fragmented artifacts, but only in respect to their original function. The mere fact of their survival has rendered them highly useful as remembered details, portals to another (now lost) time and place.


Pamela Paulsrud 

Crop Rotation


The instant dissemination of text, information, images, and recipes is at our fingertips when the physicality of the carrier of information shifts to the current kindle or i-pad. Bibliophilism was created from discarded books, rescued from library dumpsters, estate sales and donations. These books had seemingly lost the purpose for which they were originally intended. Bibliophilism explores the missing part in the electronic medium—the tactile, resonance and communicative quality embodied in the physicality of form.


Andrea Peterson 

Sea to Land

This piece is part of a series concerning the elements, our world, origin and sustainability. Sea to Land concerns water and how life came from our seas. Our DNA is traced back to bacteria living in volcanic tubes under the Atlantic Ocean. It is magical to ponder how things came to be and how they will continue to change and how we can witness the changes – but what if we destroy the water – oil spills, plastic in fish, over fishing – the amount of detritus humans leave in their wake is alarming and self centered. It is much more exhilarating to imagine pollen learning to fly than how we can alleviate oil spills.

Shawn Sheehy

Welcome to the NeighborWood: A Pop-Up Book of Animal Architecture

A Pop-Up Guide to North American Wildflowers:

Both works in this show come from a deep interest in promoting sustainable relationships between humans and the wild world. Welcome to the NeighborWood is created from handmade paper and is letterpress-printed, so production is entirely local and environmentally friendly. I cannot make the same claim for the pop-up field guide, but using commercial materials allows me to make many more copies and broadcast the sustainability message further afield…

Doug Stapleton

Still, Life. Ikebana

Still, Life. Pea-own-kneez

Still, Life. Parakeet Tulips

Still, Life. The Pretty Blue Bowl Incident

These four pieces were prompted by a strange, beautiful photograph of a 17th. C. still life painting that I found in a book on botanical imagery. I used that as the model, and used the images from the book to construct the composition.


Jen Thomas 

Forced Sustainability

Forced Sustainability tells a story of the loss of a car to a hail storm and the ultimate gain of freedom through biking in 10 handmade flax paper panels featuring words and images in willow charcoal.


Jamie Thome

Tea Bag Quilt

The smallest everyday rituals around the world reveal our collective humanity: rising from sleep, brushing of teeth, eating a breakfast, steeping of tea.  Hundreds of people from all over donated their used tea bags to help create this hand-sewn quilt, which stands as a gentle reminder of the things that connect all humans.


Sarah Vogel

Creep, May 1982, September 1993, September 1989, August 1988 (triptych), May 2010,March 1981 (quadriptych), June 1990, July 2001, July 1968

The reduction linocut prints in Creep illustrate the blurring of boundaries between dream homes and anxiety dreams. By using tropes of family and home life as foil and counterpart to the always changing, always decaying physical world, the pieces examine the fine line between careful observation of that which is most familiar and paranoia.


Cecile Webster

My Paper Garden

I am a person driven by process. I begin with plants gathered, discarded, or left on my doorstep. The most fascinating part of making paper from plants is the variety of papers that can be produced. The same plant will often yield vastly different papers depending on the conditions of collection, cooking, beating and couching. They differ in color, texture, and, scent. The resulting papers are my real art. I make books and boxes as a way to use the paper that I feel compelled to make.



Scott Wolniak

Weed (Rio), Weed (Producto), Weed (Dark Hole):

The Weeds presents a humorous, speculative model of accumulation and mutation in contemporary society, proposing that grounds fertilized by trash will eventually spawn new breeds of graphically speckled flora. I maintain a small piece of land between the sidewalk and street in front of my apartment in Chicago; weeding it, removing debris, etc. The Weeds project grew out of this activity.  It is an analogy of elements with similar attributes: wild plants and post-consumer materials are both tenacious, intrusive and considered a nuisance; they typically accumulate in marginal locations and rely heavily on random phenomena.  They literally share common ground.

2 thoughts on “Natural Cycles

  1. Pingback: Follow Up « Melissa Jay Craig's BLAHG

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