preservation vs. function

This week I have had the opportunity to view several of the pieces in the Berger-Cloonan Collection of Decorated Papers at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University, and to hear the collectors speak of their journey and about decorated papers. It’s been fascinating.

decorated paper 1

Yes, this is a two-dimensional piece of paper.

What are decorated papers? In the very basic sense, it is paper that has been decorated in some way, and in the case of the Berger-Cloonan Collection, papers that have been decorated by hand. Berger and Cloonan have travelled the world to find papers to add to the collection, often directly from the artists themselves. The Blue Batik Zig Zags paper I used to cover my gaming binder is an example of commercial decorated paper.

decorated paper 3One thing Sid Berger said during the talk has been turning in my mind: he wants complete sheets of paper and abhors the thought of cutting any of the papers into smaller pieces.

But what are decorated papers for? In book production, these types of papers are often used for the nice end papers inside the cover of hardcopy books and special editions. To be used for this purpose, the papers must be cut to size.

As an archivist-in-training, with a touch of a hoarding impulse, I recognize the desire to keep beautiful pieces intact. But also as an archivist-in-training and historian, with a dose of pragmatism, I see the importance of letting these papers fulfill their functions: to be used, to be appreciated in the way they bring beauty to an object that brings together a variety of specialized trades. A book that has decorated paper inside, or even outside, the cover lets us know that not only was this book considered special enough to warrant beautiful paper in its binding, but also that such artisanship was valued by its makers and audience. And that is just the beginning of the insights we could learn from such an object.

decorated paper 4

An example of a piece that has been ‘marbled’ twice using a mask.

In some ways it comes down to the intention or purpose behind the object. Some of these pieces truly are works of art. Some of the artists made these papers specifically to be included in the Berger-Cloonan collection. Some of these pieces were not made to be used as end papers in books, but are intended to be kept whole. These pieces can be framed and appreciated as the works of art they clearly are.

Therein lies the distinction. The truly singular pieces, made with the intent to be viewed as a whole, intact piece, should be kept so; but the inclusion of an entire ream (hundreds of pages) of a similar, repetitive design that was made commercially perhaps would serve its purpose better by being used. Of course, I was not privy to the appraisal process and may be unaware of the reasons why reams of material were included in the collection. Nor am I an art historian nor a decorated paper aficionado. I am, however, someone who appreciates craftsmanship and the practical and the mundane made beautiful.

We have the tendency to hide away our beautiful and finely crafted things, wrapped carefully and kept safe, hidden from view. How often do we actually use that special china, or knit something from that beautiful and hand-dyed yarn, or drink that unique tea? But how well can we enjoy those things if we do not see them or use them? Yes, using them poses some risk — we might break the china, the project for the yarn might not work out, the tea will be consumed — but this risk is part of living life. Let us use the beautiful things meant to be used and enjoyed in their use.

What do you think? How do you decide what is ‘too special’ to use and what isn’t?


All images in this post are of papers included in the Berger-Cloonan Collection of Decorated Papers in the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M University. This post will be updated with the names of the individual artists once I have that information.

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DIY clipboard binder

After nearly a year of use, my (second) gaming folder was looking like this:

This paper folder was fine when I had only a few character sheets to keep, but not when I had several, plus notebooks and other ephemera. It was time to upgrade. One of my fellow gamers uses an Officemate Slim Clipboard Storage Box, but after looking at it, I found that the clip was too stiff to open easily with my arthritic hands. I decided that I wanted a binder so that I could keep my system of keeping each character’s papers together in a plastic protector. I didn’t want just any binder though: I wanted one with a clipboard. I was always asking our hosts where the clipboards were and wanted one of my own, without having another item to keep up with or weigh down my game bag even further. Surely I could buy a binder with a clip on it, right?

Wrong. The few that I could find online were out of stock or had the clip on the inside of the front cover, rather than on the outside. Well, attaching a clip to the front of a binder shouldn’t be too hard, I thought, and decided to make one myself. Since I couldn’t find a binder that had the cover/design I wanted, I also decided to take a plain binder and re-cover it as well.

To put a new cover on the binder, I used this DIY tutorial from Thrift Diving. These were my supplies:

One of the issues pointed out on the Thrift Diving tutorial is that the paper isn’t sealed to be water proof. Having had one gaming folder damaged by water already, and knowing that we often have drinks on the table, I wanted to protect the paper from getting wet by accident. My solution was to line the paper with a self-seal laminating sheet before gluing it onto the binder. The type that I used allows one laminate a single side.

After I laminated the paper, re-covering the binder was pretty straightforward. The tutorial covers each step, so I just followed along. When it came to putting the clipboard clip on, however, things started to get a bit tricky.

I used a hammer and nail to make holes for the rivets that would attach the clip to the binder. It seemed like a simple job: make the holes, put the clip into place, and set the rivets. Only, the rivets wouldn’t set. I went out and bought a rivet setter, since part of the problem was not having the right tool on hand, but neither the rivets that came with the clips nor the ones that came with the setting tool would stay fastened.

gaming binder 8

In the end, I admit to using superglue. I used the setting tool and anvil to squash the two sides of the rivet together for the glue to adhere.

For a finishing touch, I used washing tape to make a border on the inside of the binder, covering the edges of the paper.

gaming binder 9

The inside, featuring a washi-tape border. I splurged and bought new mechanical pencils.

gaming binder 10

It only looks full already because of the notebooks I keep for our campaigns.

gaming binder 11

The binder in situ, with spell cards, notebook, and dice bag (which I also made).

I’m quite pleased with the final product! I have used it several times since making the binder and it is holding up well.

Now that I know what I’m doing, and have extra binder clips and rivets, I might make more clipboard binders as gifts in case any of my gamer friends decide they want one for themselves.

how do we treat the sick?

There’s been quite the flurry of noise on the Internet about the American Health Care Act that was passed in the House of Representatives today. Something that caught my attention is an interview with Mo Brooks (R, Rep. AL), in which he said:

‘People who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.’

Source: CNN Interview with Mo Brooks by Jake Tapper (around 3.20 of the clip)

His statements imply that people who lead healthy (‘good’) lifestyles don’t have pre-existing conditions, which also implies that people who do get sick or have pre-existing conditions somehow did something to deserve their poor health.

Brooks does immediately add, ‘Now, in fairness, many of the people who have pre-existing conditions have those conditions through no fault of their own.’

It’s the earlier statement that is getting the headlines and the attention, and for good reason. The problem here is in placing a moral value on a person’s lifestyle — whether they exercise regularly or diet or eat well — which is what the first statement does: people who lead ‘good lives’, who have done things ‘the right way.’ How, then, do you reconcile the second statement, that those with pre-existing conditions are not at fault for having them, with the first? You have already established the premise that ‘good people’ don’t have pre-existing conditions. So how can someone have a pre-existing condition and not have done something to deserve his or her condition?

This is not a new question. I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus when they see a man blind from birth: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.2) We might not express it as outright as that, but we still sometimes have that sentiment that if something bad happens to someone, then they probably deserved it: this idea of, ‘Well, they had it coming.’

But we need to remember Jesus’s answer: ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9.3)

Granted, in the gospel, the work of God is Jesus restoring the man’s sight, which isn’t exactly something we can expect to happen today (it wasn’t common then, either). That doesn’t mean we can write off Jesus’s answer, though.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Often I see the focus of this passage placed in the following sentence or in the events after the miraculous healing, to the point that this sentence is overlooked. If this sentence is evoked, it’s usually done after some misfortune or tragedy, along with the platitude, ‘All things happen for a reason’ (with which I politely disagree, but that is another subject).

What are the works of God and how might they be displayed? What does that look like today? Right now, in the wake of the AHCA passing the House, this is what I hear from that passage:

The works of God are displayed in how we treat the sick, the poor, and the needy.

Our words, our thoughts, and our actions: what are they when we encounter someone who is ill? What are they when we encounter someone who is chronically ill or differently abled? Not just how we treat that person as an individual; but how do we treat them as a group when we shape our ideas about health care and when we vote? Are we treating the sick, the poor, and the needy in such a way that it displays the work of God?

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