Congratulations on your silver anniversary, Helen! What piqued your interest in paper initially?
I spent a year at an art school in Mainz, Germany during college, where I took a class about paper as an art medium. This course opened my eyes to the potential of paper: we built furniture from cardboard, constructed pop-up books and made recycled handmade paper to name a few techniques. I became intrigued with the way that a single sheet of paper could be manipulated into a variety of forms.
Cosmology, an artist’s book created from one sheet of paper that is cut and folded into this form
What drew you to hand papermaking?
I visited New York City on my way home from Germany and knew that’s where I wanted to move after college, so I did. A year or so later when my father was working in Japan for a summer, my mother and I went to visit for two weeks and inspiration struck: I studied the beautiful ways the Japanese package their products; I admired the light filtering through the traditional shoji screen at the Inn where we stayed in Kyoto; and I visited stores dedicated to paper (this was 1988, before decorative papers were readily available in America). I came home to NYC thinking I’d find a way to go to Japan to study with a master, but I ended up discovering a small hand papermaking studio – Dieu Donné Papermill in Soho – and ended up working there for six years.
Helen Hiebert Studio in the rocky mountains of Colorado
Tell us a bit about your writing.
While I was working at the Mill, I was approached by an editor at Storey Publishing about writing a book, which led to my book Papermaking with Plants. I never dreamt I'd write a book, but I was passionate about the subject – growing plants and turning them into sheets of paper – and as it turned out, I realized that I liked writing how-to books. I now have five books under my belt and I write a weekly blog called The Sunday Paper, featuring stories and examples of people doing exciting, innovative and beautiful things with paper.
Helen’s how-to books about hand papermaking and paper crafts
You work in several styles, often engaging the community (installation, sculpture, artists’ books)... tell us about them.
I find it so enriching to work with the community. It started out when I created my installation Mother Tree, a giant paper dress with crocheted threads that turn from mother’s milk on the dress into roots that surround the tree. I realized that I couldn’t possibly create all of the crocheted roots that I envisioned, so I reached out and asked others to contribute. The response was overwhelming, and it made the project so much richer – I received unusual crocheted fibers plus many meaningful stories in addition to the crocheted roots.
Mother Tree surrounded by a group of crocheters
I created another large installation called The Wish, which is a permanent installation in a library in Denver.
Helen with The Wish
I also create artist’s books, and my most recent book is called 50 Revolutions. It relates to Mother Tree, and for this project I asked my community to contribute words about motherhood/mothers that are printed on the green piece you see here (I call the print Mapping Motherhood). The words are printed in rings (like the rings of a tree) and there are fifty of them, because this book is about the fifty revolutions I’ve taken around the sun.
What are you working on now?
I have a retrospective exhibition opening at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center in Michigan tomorrow night, and it will be up through the end of the month. I’ll be exhibiting all of my artist’s books, and I’m launching a new installation called The Wishing Wall. The wall will be comprised of wishes that I’ve collected from around the world and a series of colorful handmade paper disks that I create using a shrinkage process that is one of the driving forces behind my work. You can click on this link to get an overview of the exhibition and watch a film trailer that shows off this shrinkage phenomenon.
A model of The Wishing Wall
Best wishes and continued success for many more years of paper artistry, Helen!
By the way everyone, I highly recommend watching the film trailer as it's quite fascinating.