© Mark Norberg
by Amanda Degener, January 2014
Art made in handmade paper inspired by the artist’s daily practice of Tai Chi as meditation and her study of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Degener, co-owner of Cave Paper Inc. has been making handmade paper for over thirty years and likes that it is a basic technology with deep cultural roots. The ancient matrix of handmade paper fits well with the spiritual, wholelistic, historic, and natural ideas that inspire this art. The artist’s intention is to create a visual example of the inter-relationship between environment in both the material and spiritual world. During this dialogue she cooks, beats, colors, moulds, presses, and dries what started as a plant. Depending how the fiber is prepared it is capable of looking like fragile translucent skin, expensive leather, or even metal.
Degener’s work draws attention to nature and it evokes emotions towards the environment that we also feel for humans: love, empathy, compassion, and care. Through the hand papermaking process she is in collaboration with nature; the plants and natural dyes are a mixture of fiber, sun, soil, and rain. While she processes the materials there is an exchange of Qi with the materials; her spirit and heart get infused into the work. Making art seems more about noticing than conceiving.
The labor-intensive process of making paper by hand helps Degener, and others who view her work, to remember that time is not as the 21st century seems to demand. The chaotic world may be speeding by, ever faster and ever changing, but our needs have not changed. Reflection, nearness, care and love are found in slowness. Slowness is where we are renewed, where we sense ourselves in the world and find the boundaries of our own existence. This “doing” seems to include undoing. When engaged with making, the incessant banter of the brain is gone or no longer dominates. The busy hand quiets the brain; it brings the mind to a calmer state. This slowness has been one threshold to freedom and timelessness. Slowness is where we are renewed, where we sense ourselves in the world, where we can explore the boundaries of our existence. There is a restfulness of working till things are fully resolved. Sometimes there is an intensity of that moment of making, of being alive. The mind can fall into an internal void where the sensibilities are sharpened to respond to every detail of the outer world with heightened perception, awareness, and insight. Fleeting glimpses of things observed with intense clarity punctuate the linear passage of time. Something as simple as water dripping from the paper mould, can help one to listen and accept the flow of life. Effortless things, like watching water, can teach us to simply let go of trying to accomplish, be in the moment, and feel the way forward.
Amanda Degener graduated from Bennington College and then received an MFA from Yale School of Art. In 1984 she moved her paper studio to the not-yet-opened Minnesota Center for Book Arts where she was a Founder, their first Artist in Residence and later, their first Artistic Director. She was the co-recipient of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library 2012 Minnesota Book Artist Award sponsored by Lerner Publishing Group. Degener’s community service work includes volunteering for non-for-profits such as Wilderness Inquiry, co-organizing national paper conferences (four of them) and teaching Tai Chi. Degener educates through writing, publishing and traveling to teach and exhibit her work in the United States and in places such as Japan, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan/China. Her work is in countless private collections and she has collaborated with many talented and famous artists from coast to coast. Cave Paper’s are used in books that can be accessed from public collections like: The Library of Congress, St. John’s University, and the Walker Art Center to name a few.