Marfa Made Paper

by Theresa Bembnister December 1, 2010

Catherine Cox loads the Hollander beater inside her Marfa studio. The beater processes fiber into pulp for papermaking. ...Photo by Fred Covarrubias.



In a little casita not far from downtown Marfa, Catherine Cox is working diligently to set up her studio, which she’s named Marfa Made Paper.


After spending three and a half years as the studio and residency director at Dieu Donné Papermill in New York, Cox moved to Marfa late last year to establish her own shop. Now she handmakes paper in a setting that’s considerably removed from the hustle and bustle she knew before. 


“I came to visit Marfa last summer, and when I returned to New York I just couldn’t get it out of my head,” Cox says. “The charging sky, the vast desert, the Dr. Suess-like plants.”


Catherine Cox and fellow collaborator Steven Orlando in production of Ligon's Self Portrait Age 9, an edition contracted by Art In General for the Armory, 2008. ...Image courtesy Dieu Donné. ...Photo by Kat Savage.


Marfa offered a creative community far away from the New York art scene, which Cox was steeped in at Dieu Donné. Among her collaborators there were artists E.V. Day and Glen Ligon; she also created custom paper for Louise BourgeoisWilliam Kentridge and Cory Arcangel, among others.


Cox says what she learned at Dieu Donné was how to make collaboration a profession.


“That is something they don’t teach you at school,” says Cox, who has a degree from the Kansas City Art Institute’s fiber department. “It is a sensitive thing, collaborating, but so rewarding.”


Catherine Cox assists Dieu Donné Master Papermaker Paul Wong on the production of Arturo Herrera's edition, Mine, 2007. ...Photo courtesy Dieu Donné.


Cox worked on the wet floor (the part of the papermaking studio where wet pulp is manipulated) with resident artists, who spent time in the studio working with master papermakers – much the way print shops invite artists to work with printmakers. Most of Dieu Donné’s artists in residence had never made paper by hand before. This often led to experimentation that pushed the medium in unexpected directions.


“Having become well-versed in the medium, you know what the process [and] material can and can’t do,” Cox says. “But when you have an artist standing next to you asking, ‘Well, what if you did this?’ you have to give it a shot, even if you don’t think it will work.”


E.V. Day ... Shazam (Red and Blue), 2009 ... Fishnet bodysuit pigment embossing on cotton base sheet ... 59.5 x 39.25 inches ... Photo courtesy Dieu Donné. ... Photo by Kat Savage.


In her last collaborative project at Dieu Donné, Cox worked with artist E.V. Day to incorporate fishnet stockings into the paper to create images reminiscent of black holes. After lots of trial and error experimentations, the duo came up with the correct combination of pigments and the right amount of pressure in the hydraulic press to create a shooting-star-like effect.


Cox plans to continue collaborative work at Marfa Made Paper, working alongside artists with whom she’s already established a relationship. She also hopes to work with the artists, print shops and art organizations already established in Marfa. Cox taught a holiday papermaking workshop to children at the Chinati Foundation last December, and she’s in talks with El Cosmico about leading workshops for its guests. Cox says she also enjoys experimenting on her own work, but she has no plans to publish her own artwork.


Catherine Cox teaches a free holiday workshop for children and adults at the Chinati Foundation in December 2009.


Marfa Made Paper is still a work in progress.


“I am still getting all my equipment together,” Cox says. “I’m building a lot of things myself, like the moulds and hydraulic press.”


She has a dedicated studio space and the most essential piece of equipment, a Hollander beater, which cuts and agitates the fiber and water until they become pulp.


Catherine Cox works in her studio in Marfa, rinsing blue jean fiber after cooking it in soda ash for two hours. ...Photo by Fred Covarrubias.


The medium of papermaking by hand, revived early in the last century by pioneers such as Dard Hunter and Stanley William Hayter, experienced resurgence in popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, when many new papermills (including Dieu Donné) were founded. It’s still a new medium, which Cox says appeals to her as an artist.


“There are many discoveries yet to be made,” she says. “That’s what I think is exciting.”


With Marfa Made Paper, Cox hopes to be one of the people creating her medium’s new history.


Catherine Cox leads a Dieu Donné tour for students from P.S. 321.

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