Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mary Hark- Madison Artist

SDA member Mary Hark is an artist, teacher, and proprietor of
HARK! Handmade Paper Studio. She kindly gave this interview
for the Wisconsin SDA blogsite:

How did paper become your fiber of choice?

I use paper as an extension of textiles. I love cloth and most of my papers are made from linen cloth. In my studio practice, I combine cloth and paper as well as other materials. My palette starts with something soft and malleable [cloth] and continues to something firm, hard, not absorbent [paper]. Linen rag paper is made by beating factory-dyed linen cloth into a pulp. During the process, I may combine several colors of linen cloth to create a desired color of paper. I would say linen, not paper, is my fiber of choice.

How did your current exhibit "Driftless Reveries" come about?

In 2006, I received a Fulbright Senior Research Grant to work and study in Ghana, West Africa for ten months. When I came back I received support from the University of Wisconsin to continue to research the textiles of this region, and I produced artwork which reflected the impact of my studies. When I was invited to produce a small body of work for an exhibition last January in Madison, I thought that I would use it as an opportunity to focus my attention on home. Having been so intensely focused on a place very different from where I live, I was curious to see how that had affected what I valued and understood about the Mid-West. I considered the cultural tenor of the Midwest, my experience of winter, the night sky, the orderliness of the landscapes and the topography of the Driftless Region.

What is your most vivid memory of working in Africa?

So many things affected me. But possibly the most important was
to experience how art and daily life can intersect seamlessly.
In Ghana, textile production and ordinary daily activities are
easily intertwined. I had an formal apprenticeship with a family
that produced Adinkra Cloth and saw there was no barrier between
domestic life and what happened in the studio.

Have you traveled to other countries in Africa?

This past April I went to South Africa where I attended an international conference on Art and Social Justice. I worked and spent some time with artists in Johannesburg, and visited some Papermaking Collectives in the townships.

Do you work with a plan in mind?

I work very intuitively. I start pieces with an idea; I knew the space for the [Driftless Reveries] exhibit and I used the scale of the space as a boundary.

What has been your most useful tool or found object?

I’m a collector of West African cloth, having that cloth in my peripheral vision is inspiring. My machine (Valley Hollander beater) that turns cloth into pulp is a vintage, cast iron machine probably used as a tester mating for the Papermaking industry. I love my beater!

What might surprise someone about working w/ paper?

Most people don’t expect the high quality of handmade paper. My paper has a real leathery feel and the range of physical qualities is surprising. Based on the choice of raw material (flax, cotton, linen) it can have so many different qualities.

How long does it take to make paper?

I make 18” X 24” sheets from linen cloth. With surface design, drying time, it may take one week for me and my assistant to make 200 sheets. That’s working pretty much straight through. First the pulp is processed, formed with a mold and deckle, dried, painted, dyed, dried and gelatin processed.

When did you start Hark! Handmade Paper Studio?

About 25 years ago. All my papers are for sale but I don’t aggressively market them. I’m known within the art community so people come to me for projects and I will make paper customized for their needs. The Paper Nest, an IA paper shop, also sells my paper and is now in the process of opening a storefront in Iowa City, IA.

You also teach at UW- Madison?

I teach in the Textile Design Studies Department. I work with students interested in apparel and fashion who are following a course of textile design. My courses are all hands on- I teach beadwork, embroidery and experimental design skills. My job is to give them a foundation in fabric and to help them find their voice and ascetic values. An upcoming class will focus on experimental design using recycled materials to create garments and other 3-dimensional pieces.

What advice would you have for studio artists wanting to start a business or market their art?

My advice is- You should ask someone else. It has been a rich life but cash flow is a problem! You have to love it.


Mary’s exhibit, Driftless Reveries: Work in Paper and Cloth by Mary Hark, is currently on display through May 30 at Iowa Artisans Gallery, 207 E. Washington St, Iowa City, IA. She is Assistant Professor of Design Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Proprietor of HARK! Handmade Paper Studio, specializing in small editions of high quality flax and linen papers for fine press.

Her papers are carried through Iowa City artist Elizabeth Munger, owner of The Paper Nest.

Learn more about Mary and her work at:


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