I had the first intern in my Colorado studio last week. Daria Wilber (from Calhan, CO) contacted me in the fall after becoming interested in papermaking during a class at Arrowmont last summer with Jo Stealey. By the way, since relocating, I’ve also had queries from Latvia, Australia and North Carolina. It seems like there must be a need for this type of mentoring.
Daria in the studio
I started my career in hand papermaking as an intern at Dieu Donné Papermill back in 1992. I learned a lot from this type of hands-on experience. I learn best by seeing, doing and asking questions. When I worked at Dieu Donné, the number of hours I worked went towards studio days for me to make my own work.
Uniform, a piece I made while interning at Dieu Donné Papermill
Since the year 2000, I’ve had twenty interns in my studio (19 in Portland, 1 in Colorado). My very first intern (Jenny Pinto) came all the way from India. She posted a note on the bookarts listserve with a subject line of “plant papermaking and lampshades”. A coincidence? I’d just written my first book, Papermaking With Plants, and was starting work on Paper Illuminated. Jenny spent 6 weeks with me that summer, and look what she is doing now. She brought some of her local banana fiber along, which is similar to abaca.
Chandelier by Jenny Pinto made from local banana fiber
The intern who spent the longest amount of time with me was was a student from Wellesley College. She came and worked with me full-time for 10 weeks one summer! In the end, she decided that papermaking was not her thing… I always explain that papermaking is 1/3 prep, 1/3 papermaking and 1/3 clean-up… and she witnessed that first-hand for 10 weeks!
Local interns (only about 1/3 of the interns I’ve had have been local) usually come in once a week for short or long periods or have joined me in the studio to help with particular projects. Interns from afar tend to come in for 20-30 hours a week for 2-4 weeks. Some receive college credit and others just want to witness the day-to-day life of an artist. My interns have ranged in age from 19 years to 58 years old (most have been under 30) and have come from all over the US, Canada and India.
Having an intern takes a certain amount of commitment on my part. I try to include each one of them in as many daily activities of the studio, take them with me to meetings, have them help with installations, etc. I also attempt to honor their wishes, if they want to learn a particular skill, have me give them feedback on their work, etc. But in all honesty, most of their time is spent assisting me in the studio.
It is my hope that they gain skills to equip them in their various pursuits in paper! Daria just sent me these lovely words about her experience here last week: “As a mentor, you were welcoming, patient, giving and flexible. I cannot thank you enough for that. My job as an intern was to help you as much as possible while learning from you, and I learned a great deal”. I do find the give and take of hosting interns rewarding.
Have you had interns or served as an intern? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below.