For artists Margaret Mahan and Drew Matott, papermaking is a means of therapy.
Mahan and Matott’s Peace Paper Project has been touring and teaching across the United States and international borders since the duo decided to expand their focus in 2011. The two broadened the Combat Paper Project, which focused on American veterans and combat victims, to any group that may benefit from the ancient technique of paper preparation.
“It’s amazing how universal papermaking is,” Mahan said. “The people we teach take a risk in making their first sheet, but after that, they’re hooked.”
The process can be quick and fun or long and laborious, depending on the amount of fiber to be transformed and the memories and emotions associated with the cloth. The pair has seen all sorts of fabric fed into their Hollander beater, from Indian saris and veterans’ uniforms to colorful cotton underwear.
The latest venture for the Vermont-based team is the pulping, pouring and pulling of hydrilla, a water weed that threatens the survival of the San Marcos River’s beloved wild rice. The resulting paper, muted green and a rough sort of elegant, will be on display Friday night as part of the annual Wild Rice Festival’s Community Bike Ride Art Crawl from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Zosima Gallery.
Matott and Mahan will host a spot at Sewell Park Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. that will allow festival goers a chance to make their own sheets of paper in an effort to raise awareness about the threat hydrilla poses to the river environment.
For Matott, who has been making street art with paper for more than 10 years, any experience can be translated into fiber.
“Paper is pretty cross-disciplinary,” Matott said. “We look at the world through the lens of papermaking.”
Following Peace Paper Project’s involvement in the Texas Wild Rice Festival, Mahan and Matott will remain in San Marcos and participate on campus as part of this year’s Common Experience program, “Minds Matter: Exploring Mental Health and Illness.” The artists will be speaking with students and faculty about papermaking and their work with art therapists around the world beginning at 2 p.m. April 14 and wrapping up at 1 p.m. April 18 at various locations across campus.