Saturday, April 2, 2011

Handmade Paper from Corn Fiber with Middle School Students

My Art 2 8th grade students at Oakville Middle School are currently learning the process of making handmade paper from plants. Although my school is located in the suburbs south of St. Louis, I live almost an hour away, northeast of St. Louis at the edge of the Illinois prairie. Corn leaves and husks, collected from the field across the lane from my home garden, were cut into small pieces by the students, soaked overnight and cooked in sodium carbonate in the classroom.

When the corn pieces were cooked until the fibers pulled apart, the pot was cooled. The fiber was rinsed until the lignen was removed from the fibrous cellulose.

Since we do not have a hollander beater at school, the cooked fiber was processed (macerated into individual fibers) in my Mark Lander "Critter" at my home studio and returned to school the next day. I did add some cotton and abaca to the corn fiber in the beater so the pulp would drain slower when making sheets of paper.

When teaching adults, I add formation aid (added to water in vat of pulp to raise the viscosity and slow drain time when pulling sheet of paper) and sizing (added to water in vat so dry paper may be painted on with a wet medium later) to the vat, but the sizing caused a rash on the hands of one student a few years ago. Now, I include formation aid and sizing only on the vocabulary study guide for my middle schoolers.

Since the students will be using colored pulp in addition to the corn pulp, they soaked and beat up cotton and abaca linters with a wiz mixer in the classroom. Everyone had the opportunity to take a turn.

Pigment and a retention agent was added to color the pulp for papermaking next week.  Besides experiencing the process, the students will also be expected to learn and understand the vocabulary, basic chemistry and history of papermaking.  Students will be assessed for this project through observation, group/individual discussion, a reading/research written response, a written vocabulary quiz, and the final development and creation of their artwork.

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