I was delighted that the paper bear was chosen to feature on all the publicity for Turn The Page this year. It was strange to see it on posters around the Norwich Forum and on the catalogues that visitors we carrying. As if that wasn't lovely enough, on the Friday of the show, one of the organisers told me that the BBC's One Show had asked for my contact details as they had seen the bear and wanted to do a piece about it. I half expected it was a leg pull but was surprised to get an email saying the same and would I be interested. (...would I?)
How exciting I thought.. and although pretty sure nothing would come of it, I said yes.
'Great,' emailed the researcher, 'it's for a piece called ' Fifty things to do with Fifty Shades of Grey' ?' (ok.... nothing remotely related to my usual work.. but I like a challenge) 'Sure' I tell them.
I arrive home from Norwich on Sunday and hit the ground running - have never made anything in two days -ever and certainly not from scratch but I do have an idea and a charity shop copy of a book which I have never read.
In the afternoon the researcher phones to get background info and tells me they need it by Tuesday morning. (oh!) He asks would I come up to be interviewed. 'It'll be filmed,' he says 'so no pressure to get it right first time.... '(don't want to do it but a gift horse and all that.. and it would only be a couple of minutes).
I sketch out an idea and work out a pattern. I don't know much about the Shades apart from reading reviews and overheard conversations at work but my impression is of a manipulated woman.
A puppet and a plaything is not so far removed from my usual focus but the context is worlds apart.
The book cover forms the cross bar controls.
The figure is cut from the pages.
It's stitched and stuffed with wool.
On Monday the researcher rings again. It's decided that they won't need to interview me after all as they aren't sure where the filming will take place and it's a long way to go for 2 minutes. (He thinks he is letting me down gently but I am so relieved) They will send a courier at 8sm on Tuesday to collect. I finish making at 1.30 that morning. A motorcycle courier arrives and whisks her away.
I don't tell anyone about it all as I'm still convinced it won't happen... I have thoughts of 'Drop the Dead Donkey" in my mind. I hear nothing so email the researcher who tells me that if it makes the final cut it will be shown on Wednesday's show. Cautiously I tell a few friends and family. But oh! the toe curliness of waiting to see if it makes it.
The feature begins and she appears -for a few seconds at least -quite literally. How funny is that!...and not so much as a mention.
Am I disappointed? No not at all. I stepped way outside my comfort zone in terms of subject and in what I could make in the time available. I learned that I don't necessarily need to spend weeks and months producing something. Besides you never know when or where a piece of work will be seen or what it might lead to.
Millions of people have now seen something I made ... ( albeit for a few seconds and without the foggiest notion who made it... hahaha..) But it's all good.
If anything caused irritation (and only a little one at that) it's the fact they seemed surprised when said I wanted my puppet back.
Too right I do -she's been on the telly.
Had a fantastic time at the Turn The Page Book arts fair in Norwich last weekend. I shared a table with Margaret Cooter, Janet Bradley and Chris Gibson who I was with at Camberwell. There was an amazing array of books on every stand and it was lovely to meet people whose work I have admired for a long time.
With my newly deacidfied paper (note the crinkles) I began some new creatures from the batch of Winnicott books I've managed to find.
The paper pieces are strengthened then stitched from the outside using a whip stitch.
Each piece is stuffed with wool roving in a another reference to a child's blanket.
Once stitched and stuffed the pieces are jointed.
I was still looking for ways to deacidify the paper.
Bookkeeper spray was mentioned on several preservation and conservation sites but was quite expensive especially once shipping was added. After the previous spray hadn't worked I was hesitant at parting with more money particularly was postage was almost as much as the product but with no guarantee of success.
There is a fair amount of technical information on the subject but a lot of it refers to mass deacidification of whole books or libraries or that you need a degree in chemistry to access.
I did find a few useful articles on basic paper treatments on the Book Arts Web and a ton of information to be found http://cool.conservation-us.org including here.
I had a eureka moment to discover this, a site that explains how to treat the acid in paper using milk of magnesia tables and soda water. It seemed a bit Heath Robinson but after reading the science behind it I figured it was definitely worth a try.
Excited, I headed to Boots to buy my Milk of Magnesia only to discover that it has been discontinued. Another dead end. Undeterred I looked for the active ingredients and found could buy them on Ebay but couldn't find the specific quantities and combination needed. I compared Milk of magnesia to other similar remedies and found that Rennies were pretty close...
I threw caution to the wind and sacrificed a couple of pages from an acidy old paperback.
As per instructions I used one Rennie tablet crushed and added to one litre of soda water. The bottle was inverted gentle several times and then left to stand in the fridge. As I understand it the magnesium carbonate and calcium carbonate dissolves into the carbonated water. The water is carefully poured into a shallow dish leaving the chalky sediment in the bottle. I soaked the pages for about 20 minutes then patted them dry before pressing between sheets of blotting paper. The water was surprisingly discoloured and the paper slightly cleaner.
When completely dry the page was not as flat or smooth as before treatment but it was acid neutral when tested with the pH pen. I don't think I would risk it with a special book pages but for my purposes I think it was worth it.
I only made one paper bear as part of my MA course work but was asked if it was for sale. I would never sell the original as I'd not considered how archival the materials would be. I sourced a few more copies of the book but as they were all decades old, the paper was already deteriorating. .
The pH tester pen tests for the acid in paper.. the pale yellow lines at the top of the pages shows the acid is high. After searching reviews I found several people recommending Make it Acid Free and bought some on Amazon for about £30.
I sprayed boths sides of each page and retested with the pen. The lines stayed blue indicating that the acid was neutralised. Perfect! ...Or so I thought, but next morning the blue lines were yellow again. I wasn't sure if the spray was faulty so retreated the pages several times but with the same results.
The Amazon seller agreed to refund my money if I returned the can. When I looked up postage on Royal Mail it turns out it is illegal to send aerosols through the post so it should never have been sent in the first place. This seems obvious when you think of the hazard it could cause. Eventually I did get my refund without having to return the can but I did feel bad that the seller was out of pocket.
Many years ago I made miniature bears, first as a hobby and later to sell. I was never a collector but loved to spend time creating each little character. I made more than a thousand in ten years. Even today there is still nothing I like better than to sit and sew. It is my bliss.
When I eventually returned to study art I began looking for the source of my own creativity and why making was such a necessity. Eventually my research led me to DW Winnicott and his theory that a child's first creative act was the creation of a transitional(or comfort) object as substitute for an absent mother. It really struck a chord.
I decided to see if I could make a bear from Winnicott's words. The cut holes represening an absent mother and the the bear a kind of reparation. It was, as always, a necessity that book and bear remain together to be complete.
I'm following my bliss.