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Paper marbling was often used to decorate the inside covers of books. (Submitted photo)
Paper marbling was often used to decorate the inside covers of books. (Submitted photo)
4/3/2014 3:30:00 PM
Art of paper marbling to be taught at School of the Arts this summer
By Daryl Youngstrum
Special to the River News

When most people think of paper marbling, they probably think of the end pages in old books. Indeed, many old volumes include marbled pages inside the covers, but paper marbling is actually an ancient art that dates to the invention of paper in China.

Artist, origamist, and retired school teacher Nancy Akerly will bring the art of paper marbling to School of the Arts at Rhinelander July 19-23 with two courses, For the Love of Books: A Bookmaking Sampler and Magical Marbling: Hand Marbling on Paper. "Today the uses of marbled papers are unlimited, ranging from creating cards and scrapbook pages to bookbinding and boxmaking, anywhere you want to use papers that look like a galaxy or the ocean or like smooth marble or stones," Akerly says.

Marbling originated in China, and the practice moved along the Silk Road to Turkey. With the Crusades and increased trade with Europe, marbling became a practice throughout Europe with each country developing its own designs and techniques such as the Italian Vein, the Spanish Wave, and the French Curl. In the 1600s marbled papers were used to back official papers to avoid illegal tampering, and with the advent of the printing press marbled papers came into demand for the endpapers of books.

With the invention of offset printing, marbled papers were no longer in demand after the 1850s, and the practice of marbling with all its secrets nearly died out entirely. Luckily, Akerly says, a few master craftsmen wrote down the process, and it is from those sources that the art of marbling has continued.

Today, the process of paper marbling is much the same as it was in its beginning.

"Marbling is done in a tray filled with a kind of seaweed, Irish Moss, called carrageenana," Akerly says. "Acrylic color is applied with broomstraw brushes or eyedroppers. The colors are then stirred with a thin wooden dowel or stylus, then combed into a multitude of historic and modern patterns."

"A piece of paper coated with alum is then placed on the carrageenan. It is lifted off immediately and washed to remove the alum and carrageenan, leaving vibrant marbled images on the paper. All you need to make marbled paper is an eye for color, an appreciation of complex, intricate designs, and a willingness to get your hands dirty while having fun," she says.

Students in the Magical Marbling class will explore all the techniques of marbling and create some 20 marbled papers.

Akerly's Love of Books class will allow the students to enter the world of creative bookmaking. "We will start the bookmaking sampler with a tiny hard-covered accordion book followed by a variety of flutter books," she says. "We will then create a tuck-and-fold book using folding techniques with no adhesives at all." Students will then go on to create a blizzard book, a diagonal fold book, to create and bind a journal using Japanese stab binding, and then bind a book made of folded signatures sewn together using traditional bookbinding techniques.

"Students in this class will be well on their way to making their own books for gifts, cards, journals, and their own pleasure," Akerly says.

Magical Marbling: Hand Marbling on Paper will be offered Saturday and Sunday, July 19-20, from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. Love of Books: A Bookmaking Sampler is offered Monday through Wednesday, July 21-23, from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m.

For information on this and other School of the Arts at Rhinelander courses and for registration information, go to School of the Arts at Rhinelander, now entering its 51st year, is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Continuing Studies, 608-262-2451.

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