May 12, 2014

The art of paper

Amy Elizabeth Brock-Reed is the owner of St Seraphim Press & Paper, a business that produces high-quality paper binding and artwork. Amy is trained in the creative field of book art and a dedicated Orthodox Christian.

How did you get involved in book art?
I always wanted to be an artist and grew up playing in my grandmother’s studio. She is a painter. I took a papermaking class and loved it, and applied to the MFA in the Book Arts Department at the University of Alabama. They train in creating the whole book- from papermaking, to traditional bookbinding, to letterpress printing. I really enjoy papermaking and feel in my element there, so that is my focus. In 2008 I had the opportunity to go to the Paper and Book Intensive and take a workshop with the fantastic papermaker Andrea Peterson, and was introduced to pulp painting, which is a method of painting with overbeaten pulp on a wet sheet of freshly pulled paper. I’m hoping to set up a home paper mill and get back in to pulp painting sometime in the next 18-months.

My training is in the book arts primarily, but I’ve had to adapt my art to what I can do outside of the printing and binding facilities, so I’ve started painting and using my handmade paper in my paintings.

What does your work mean to you?
I can’t really separate myself from making artwork. I am compelled to create. It’s been hard to be an artist in the traditional sense in the past few years with the kids, and that’s been really difficult for me. That’s how I got into painting. I had to start making something, so I did a few small paintings, and then when I lost the baby, I was almost forced to paint the Seraphim piece out of my grief. I really have had very little time to create, but I have made myself the curator of my home, and I attempt to make my children’s lives beautiful and artistic. However, I am eager to get back into the art world.

What methods do you use?
I don’t currently have easy access to printing facilities so I haven’t being letterpress printing in a while. I’m trying to set up the paper mill, and when I do my methods will refine a bit. I’m doing photo-books on commission, so I’m binding a lot these days. When I paint I use acrylics and then collage my handmade paper throughout each piece. I use gold and silver leaf a lot in the paintings.

Once I have a paper mill set up I imagine I’ll do far more pulp-paintings and handmade paper art than anything else. Papermaking is where it’s at for me.

What sort of materials do you use?
My favorite fibers to make paper with are cotton and flax, but I also love kozo, which from the bark of a tree that grows around here. Books that are bound with handmade paper last far longer than modern mass-produced books. I just like the process of making paper, as well as the end result.  One of favorite methods is to pulling a sheet of kozo and doing a pulp painting with overbeaten cotton. 

Current artwork
My latest painting was of titled ‘Seraphim, St. Seraphim, and the Bear’ and was a really personal piece that was created out of the grief of miscarriage. We named the baby Seraphim, and St. Seraphim is a very dear saint to me. So, I painted a little boy sitting beside St. Seraphim, a sort of reimaged version of the story of St. Seraphim feeding the bear. I do pray that St. Seraphim protects my Seraphim, and I ask them both to pray for me.

I’m currently working on a series of larger paintings, similar in size to the St. Seraphim painting, that juxtapose images of Deep South America and Eastern Orthodox saints with quotes from the author Flannery O’Connor and the Church Fathers and Mothers. So, for example, the first painting I’m working on is of St. Xenia of Petersburg building the Church with the O’Connor quote, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you odd.” The next painting will have a distinctly Southern scene inspired by O’Connor in some way with a quote from St. Nikon of Optima or other saint. My goal is 4-6 paintings. As with the Seraphim painting, they will all include handmade paper in some way.

What is your inspirations?
I am an Orthodox Christian, Southern (North American), Mother. I am always trying to work out the three and it is evident in my work. In my early books and prints, I wasn’t married yet, so they are all about Orthodoxy or feature cotton or some Southern folk scene.

Artists that inspire me include pulp painters and papermakers, Shannon Brock and Andrea Peterson. As for book artists, there are too many to list but I am truly inspired by the incredible women that I went to grad school with that are out there making books and creating community. I really admire the iconographer Nick Papas.

What’s a normal day at work?
There is no normal day! I’m chasing my 2 and 4-year-old, trying to do preschool with the 4-year-old, keeping the house running and just trying to keep them alive. I’m fortunate in that my husband works from home and he can work odd hours some days and so at least 2 weekday afternoons a week I take 3 hours in the studio, which is a little room in the basement, in addition to sometimes over Saturdays. The kids get up at 5am, we feed the kids, Matt goes to work, I try say prayers with the kids, they play while I do chores, we go to the doctor/play date/whatever, naptime, we read together, play outside, if I’m lucky they’ll play in the basement so I can work in the studio for a little bit, Matt gets off work, I cook dinner, then it’s bathtime, prayers, reading, bedtime. Every day, aside from the afternoons I get to work in the studio and Matthew takes the girls outside while I work in the studio. 

What sort of commissions you regularly do?
I do a lot of sign-in books for weddings, and that kind of thing. I suppose if someone were interested I could do a commissioned painting, though I’ve never done one. Once my paper mill is set up I would like to start taking commissions for handmade paper, but I’m not there yet.

How does your Orthodoxy find its way in your art?
I think the spiritual elements are pretty evident in my work. I am inspired primarily by the saints, so I paint and print about the saints. My first chapbook was titled Patrons: Reflections on Our Namesakes and I asked 4 friends to write about their Patron saint. I converted their handwriting into photopolymer plates and letterpress printed it. Most of my broadsides had a spiritual/Orthodox theme, one being about St. Xenia, and another being based on The Brothers Karamazov. I printed and bound a set of 3 miniature books that I housed in a matching box that are accordion books featuring saints. One is Desert Fathers, one is Desert Mothers, and the last is Women Martyrs. A lot of people ask me if I want to become an iconographer since I deal a lot with saints, but I’m not led there right now. I am very considerate of their images, and try to be respectful. I know they aren’t icons, but I try to remain prayerful when I work on something with saints in particular.

Tell us about how you converted to the Orthodox Church.
I was raised in a Protestant home in the Southern United States, where almost everyone is Protestant. After college I went to Turkey for several months to tutor some really awesome kids who lived steps from the Aegean Sea. I met several Protestant “workers” there, who I owe so much to. Those months really did change my life. Anyway, we went to a few ancient sites like Ephesus and St John’s Basilica, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. On my own I read about the early church. I was shocked! I knew that a lot of what I had learned in the Protestant church contradicted itself, but I couldn’t believe that I had never been taught about the early church, the Septuagint, the Saints! I took a trip to Istanbul, and visited the Hagia Sophia. It was so beautiful! I was overwhelmed and thought, “this is the Church!”

When I came home in the Fall of 2006 I started visiting Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham, AL. I was introduced to a few Orthodox people, including my oldest daughter’s godfather, and several people on campus. One of the first Sundays I visited the program had an icon of the Seven Sleepers! From there I became involved with Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus at the University of Alabama, who were invaluable. All of the new relationships I formed within the Orthodox community really helped to sustain and guide me along my path. On September 2, 2007 I was Chrismated at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. My husband and I were married there a year later.

Our family now attend St. Symeon’s the New Theologian, but go a lot of the weekday services at the Greek Church to take our godson to communion.

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OFA blog would like to thank Amy Brock-Reed for kindly giving up her time for this interview.
OFA wishes Amy every success in her work.

To view or purchase Amy’s work, click below:
            StSeraphim Press on Esty


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