The Secret Life of Paper

25 Years of Works in Paper by Helen Hiebert is a retrospective exhibition at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (KBAC) and Western Michigan University in April 2016. Whether or not you get a chance to see the show in person, I invite you on this virtual tour of my artist’s books, sculptural drawings and films. All works are for sale through KBAC or by clicking the links on this page. 

Let me know what you think of the tour!



Exhibition Dates: April 8 – 29, 2016

Kalamazoo Book Arts Center
Park Trades Center, Suite 103A, 326 W. Kalamazoo Avenue,
Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Hours: Mon – Fri 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment, 269/373-4938


Helen will be present at the following events:

  • Opening reception: Friday, April 8th, 6-9pm, Kalamazoo Book Arts Center
  • Lecture: Wednesday, April 6th, 5:30, Western Michigan University Richmond Center for Visual Arts, Room 2008 
  • Workshop: Innovations in Paper Weaving: Saturday, April 9, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM at KBAC, $110 + $10 material fee, contact KBAC to register



An exhibition catalog has been published in conjunction with the exhibition.


I’ve created regular and deluxe editions (above you see the center spread of the deluxe edition, featuring an original string drawing in abaca). 

Click here to learn more about the catalog and reserve your copy. 



The title of the exhibition – The Secret Life of Paper – comes from my fascination with the invisible qualities within sheets of paper that become visible once a sheet dries. You’ll get an inkling of what I mean by watching this trailer for my film Water Paper Time.  And if you are intrigued by what you see, you can download the entire film.

Line Dried (series of 9 dresses, $600 each): I work in collaboration with my medium – handmade paper. Nine of these dress forms are in the exhibition. They were created by draping wet sheets of paper over a clothes line, and as the sheets dried, they contracted and twisted into these forms. I then stitched the washers onto one side of each form, creating thread patterns on the other side. The images resemble constellations, plant forms, fireworks, the big bang, etc. – metaphors for conception, growth, birth, life. I see all of these things as magical and mysterious, and this ties into my fascination with paper and the magical and invisible occurrences which take place throughout the papermaking process.

Line Dried, 2007, handmade abaca paper, metal washers, linen thread, each dress form measures 4'H x 14" W x 2" D

Line Dried, 2007, artist-made abaca, metal washers, thread, dress forms are each 40″H x 14″ W x 2″ D, Pictured left to right: Cupped, Growth, Orbiting.












You might know me for my how-to books (I’ve written five). In 2005, I began creating artist’s books as well. 

Modern Day Watermarking ($50, edition of 100) is my first artist’s book and it is also instructional, illustrating the watermarking process that is described in the text.

Here’s a short video illustration:

I enjoy paper engineering, especially creating sculptural forms from a single sheet of paper. In Cosmology ($125, edition of 50), I used the center of the book to create a space that you can view through the shoji screen-inspired window.

Observe the process behind the creation of this book and read the poem by Carl Adamshick in this blog post

Cosmology, 2012, edition of 50; artist-made paper is 100% cotton, featuring a pigmented pulp lamination, 6″ x 12″ x 6″

Cosmology, 2012, pigmented pulp lamination, 6″ x 12″ x 6″













Broadsides (on view at Western Michigan University)

I’ve created three broadsides over the years. Threads are a frequent feature in my work, sometimes functioning as sculptural elements, sometimes embedded in sheets of paper or used to stitch or tie paper components together, and often creating metaphors for the physical, emotional and spiritual connections between people. 

Left to Right: String Theory, A Map to Now, The BIg Bang

Left to Right: String Theory, A Map to Now, The BIg Bang

The Way It Is features artist-made abaca with an embedded string drawing, letterpress printing by Sandy Tilcock, and a poem by William Stafford.

The Big Bang is a tribute to my late father, a nuclear physicist who succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease. This piece was created during a residency at Austin Peay State University. I wrote the text, hand set the wood type and letterpress printed the edition of 25 (with assistance) and then hand embroidered the print. 

A Map to Now features cotton handmade papers, a paper weaving and a poem by Carl Adamshick. Letterpress printing by Sandy Tilcock. 


Suite of Drawings: String Theory ($2,400, edition of 10) also on view at WMU.

Most of my artwork titles derive from physics. This suite of drawings was inspired by illustrations in The Ashley Book of Knots. As the strings interlace, each one passes over and under elements that cross its path. I view these paths and crossings as metaphors for the physical and emotional connections and junctures in our lives. 

Individual drawings from this series are also available.

string theory


Alphabet Books

Alpha Blocks ($75, open edition) is a collection of 36 pop-up characters (26 letters and 10 numbers) that I designed in 1985 and editioned in 2013 to coincide with the publication of my how-to book Playing With Pop-Ups. There is no better way to show off the alphabet than with another video:

I am fascinated by the life of Dard Hunter, who traveled, practiced and wrote about hand papermaking and is one of the reasons that the craft is still alive today. He was a fine craftsman and designer, and I created Alpha, Beta, … ($750, edition of 25) to show off his Arts & Crafts font in shadow. This book features a unique Japanese hinge that flexes in both directions, allowing for multiple methods of display. 

Alpha Beta joint







Sculptural Books

The Pop-Up Hand Shadow Book (edition of 50, $375) features four illustrated animal hand shadow in a theatrical book structure. The animals are brought to life as the viewer plays with a mini flashlight (packaged with the book), casting shadows onto panels behind the pop-ups in the book. A verse about each animal, by poet Nora Robertson, appears on each page. Watch this video of the book in action:

Handle With Care ($275, edition of 25) is a small paper globe, created from eight gores (sections) of handmade abaca paper that are glued together and then inflated. Hand embroidered text runs along the equator and reads You are Holding the World in Your Hands. The globe rests in a laser cut box, and its sides have cutouts of the phases of the moon.

Helen 389A9104
















Recent Books

Interluceo ($2,250, edition of 25) In latin, interluceo means to shine or gleam between; to be transparent; to let light through the gaps. Translucent paper has mesmerized me sinc eI saw papered shoji screens during a trip to Japan in 1998. Inspired by that journey, I found a job at a hand papermill in NYC. There, I was drawn to the luminosity of abaca – the banana plant fiber used to create the colored papers in this book – as well as to the way in which a watermark could illuminate an otherwise opaque sheet of paper. 

I wrote this blog post about the creation of Interluceo. 

Helen 389a0258-60_2_A















50 Revolutions ($875, edition of 35). I turned fifty in May of 2015. Leading up to this momentous date, I started thinking about how I might commemorate the occasion as an artist, and I turned to a work that I had created about five years earlier: Mother Tree. This book represents the fifty revolutions I’ve taken around the sun and my evolving thoughts on motherhood. Both Mother Tree and 50 Revolutions stem from the bouts of isolation and inadequacy I feel as a mother. 

I made this video to show you how the book unfolds, literally and figuratively. 















My two minutes of fame on Sesame Street!

I’ll end the tour with this a fun video that was taped at the beginning of my career. You’ll see me, artist Robbin Silverberg and a bunch of kids having a blast making paper.