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Interview with Fritzi Huber, April 18, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Fritzi Huber, April 18, 2008
April 18, 2008
Interview with Wilmington artist Fritzi Huber, in which she discusses her background, her mentors in the arts, the history and techniques of hand papermaking, and some of her projects for the local community.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Huber, Fritzi Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview:  4/18/2008 Series:  Arts Length  60 minutes


Hayes: Welcome. My name is Sherman Hayes. I'm the university librarian at UNCW at Randall Library in Wilmington, North Carolina. And today I'm interviewing artist, Fritzi Huber. Did I get that correct?

Huber: Yes. That's correct.

Hayes: Okay. Good. And Fritzi, today's date is-- help me, April 18th. We've all at least been through tax days, so we are fine. Before we get into your art career, which I know is a long career, could you give us some sense of background of where you grew up, and how you finally got on this path of being an artist?

Huber: Well, I've always-- I've never considered myself other than an artist from the earliest time I can remember. I was born in a circus family and grew up in a circus family and so there was always...

Hayes: What does that mean a circus family?

Huber: My father was a high-wire walker.

Hayes: Oh, you mean the real circus. You weren't making a judgment.

Huber: No, this is not-- no metaphor. (laughs)

Hayes: A real circus family. Your father was a high-wire...

Huber: High-wire walker. He was from Basel, Switzerland. And my mother was an acrobat, until she married my father, and she also did a lot of aerial work. And then they did the high-wire act together.

Hayes: So, where was the circus at then?

Huber: They were independent contractors. My grandmother worked with Ringling and worked for Billy Rose [ph?]. And my great grandmother owned the circus Brumbach, which Elia Kazan did the film about called Man on a Tightrope, around the same time as On the Waterfront, about a circus escaping from the Soviet Block into free Europe. And that was my great-grandmother's circus. So, I come from a long circus history on my mother's side. My father was first generation and that's the family I was born into.

Hayes: And where were you born then? Were you in Europe?

Huber: Houston, Texas. No, it was exotic stuff. No, Houston, Texas. And we had a home in Houston and we had a home in New York, and we would go to which ever home was closest at the end of a season. A season would last around nine months and then you had three months of layoff time where you would rehearse, take time off, do things with the rigging, create new costumes, perhaps a new routine if you'd been doing the same routine for awhile.

Hayes: So, was this through your whole up through high school period?

Huber: No. My dad died when I was 11, but we would stagger back in every now and then. We went to public school at that point. And my mother would go back and do wardrobe, I would go back and do aerial work because that's my training. I did aerial ballet, which is trapeze, rings, ropes, whatever in the air, singularly, not flying trapeze.

Hayes: So, when did that start? When did you start doing that kind of event?

Huber: I was trained from a very early age. And I went back for a few months out of the year until I was 28. And then I decided that was it. I couldn't keep going back and forth. Almost everybody I knew had fallen, including my parents. It's just what happens if you're an aerial performer. And most of the time people survived, but I knew not being serious about it and committed to it as a profession, that was in my future. And I was always in pursuit of the arts, and so at 28, I just made a decision to get off the road and not do that anymore.

Hayes: So, what was the road? In other words, as a contractor, a circus would say, "We would need an act" and they'd contact you?

Huber: Yes, exactly, or an agent.

Hayes: And who?

Huber: You let an agent know that you are available and you want to go on the road.

Hayes: And what would be a circus name?

Huber: Well, the one I kept going back to, because I didn't have to be in the business all the time, was a series of Shrine Circus dates in Texas. And they would play in major cities in Texas, at the Cotton Bowl, and at coliseums. And that was a really nice, comfortable three months because they're all indoor dates, no tents. And so for someone who's not on the road all the time that makes it a little bit easier. And what I would do in between up into that point and throughout my 20s, so I could retain my upper body strength because that's what trapeze is all about is that upper body strength, is I taught surf launching on Hobie Cats, in California. So... (laughs)

Hayes: All right, let's translate with that is for those of us who don't know.

Huber: A two-hulled sport boat that you can go out through the surf with, and you can surf it into the beach as well. But it's a lot of upper body work, it's a very fast boat. You actually go out on a wire that's called a trapeze so that your body weight will hold the boat down and, you know, so it was very physical.

Hayes: And you were teaching this? That was a living?

Huber: That was a living.

Hayes: Who was taking lessons, just people interested then?

Huber: People who bought Hobie Cats. People who bought Cats and didn't know how to sail the Cats.

Hayes: Interesting. And what city was that in again?

Huber: That was in Oceanside, California.

Hayes: Is that where the headquarters of Hobie Cat was at? It used to be at Dana Point.

Huber: It moved there. It was up at Dana Point, right. And the hull lamination remained up there and then rest of the factory came down south, came to Oceanside.

Hayes: So you lived temporarily there? Not really temporarily, you lived mostly there?

Huber: I lived in southern California for 17 years. Yeah, San Diego area, beach area.

Hayes: Wow. A real beach person. And now you are here at the beach of surf.

Huber: Water obsessive.

Hayes: You said early on you are art. So how did that fit into this kind of exotic existence of physical work and circus? What was art?

Huber: Well, circus performers by and large are athletes in costume. So it's a very physical world. You grow up with Adonises, you know, and everybody is-- it's a bunch of gymnasts. It's like going to the Olympics everyday. They're professional gymnasts. But you have to present it as you would present on the stage. So, you're creating riggings, you're creating routines, which would be like creating a script or a storyline, costumes, maintaining those things. So you're always drawing, you're always figuring out new ways to do something.

Hayes: That's where you started your drawing skill, even for your own work?

Huber: Right.

Hayes: Did you take art in high school or elementary school?

Huber: Yeah. In fact, in high school-- I was in high school in Houston and I had a scholarship to go to the Museum of Fine Art School for gifted students two, three days a week. I would go after school.

Hayes: Oh, tell us about that. Was this in the '60s, '50s?

Huber: I expected a lot in the '60s. I expected a lot and it wasn't what I expected. And probably not very smart on my part, I got bored because they weren't teaching me anything. And I stayed with it for about three years and then I left the program. After that, like 10 years after, I know you've interviewed Jane Baldridge. She also, went to the museum school, but she went to the museum school once it had become a very well established high school. At the time I had was going it was just an after-school program. And basically what happened is all of these what were considered exceptional art students from around the city of Houston would come together in this classroom and they would give us a lot of materials and very little instruction. You know, mostly, somebody who would baby-sit us and make sure we weren't going to go crazy and do nutso things in the museum. So, it was great to see the museum, it was great to become familiar with art in that way. But I didn't learn a great deal from that program. I learned more from my art teachers in high school and in my junior high school.

Hayes: Interesting. So they had a good program within your school. Many of the people we interview have nothing, so that's great.

Huber: Well, I was fortunate enough that I would make friends with my art teachers, and I got to go on weekend excursions and things like that.

Hayes: Were they encouraging as an art career?

Huber: Absolutely. They didn't tell me that I could make any money on it, you know. But they did not discourage me from, you know, going as far as I possibly could. And they would always enter me in National Scholastics competitions.

Hayes: Wow, that's great. Were you in a particular medium at that point or almost everything?

Huber: Everything, I was always a drawer. But everything in the three National Scholastics recognitions that I received were for work in clay. And what else? Oh yeah, some interior design thing too. I can't remember exactly.

Hayes: So, I think that is good in the sense that at a high school level you hadn't got so focused, you were trying lots of different things.

Huber: Trying lots of different things. This didn't come about-- I know I'm going to say handmade paper. And without any background that sounds really awkward, but it has everything to do with my background. I didn't come to handmade paper until 1976 and I was 26 then. And it took me two years to really decide that that was the material that was meant for me. So, yeah I was actually in print making when I discovered hand papermaking.

Hayes: So, after school you started the California-circus combination, or did you go on to college?

Huber: I moved to California to go surfing for two weeks. And I ended up being there for 17 years.

Hayes: I was going to say you never came back for a long time.

Huber: I didn't come back for a long time.

Hayes: It was a very long surf trip.

Huber: It was a very long surf trip. I went out there for that and one of the things I found out over a short period of time while I was out there, and I didn't have any funding to go to college, was that the junior colleges out there, if you were to live there for six months you could go to junior college free. The only thing that you had to pay for were your books, and lab fees, and that you could also get some of your college classes out of the way in the junior college system out there.

Hayes: So you did do that? You tried that?

Huber: Yeah. I went for a few years. And then, I became friends with my professors and we sat down and talked and they said, "Do you want to teach?" And I said, "Not particularly." I said, "I feel like I'm a late bloomer, I want to get in the studio, I want to work, I want to learn more about handmade paper." Which, there weren't that may classes available at that time; it was very, very limited. And they said, "If you don't care then what you need to do is find people to study with independent late models."

Hayes: Which is the more traditional model.

Huber: Which, is what I did.

Hayes: I mean, because if you think about it the higher education of art is a fairly resent phenomenon. Most people study with somebody, right?

Huber: Well, that's what I did. I studied with three people.

Hayes: Oh, who were they?

Huber: Lee Scott McDonald, who was a papermaker and paper toolmaker who worked with Twinrocker who is still around.

Hayes: What is paper tool maker?

Huber: My beater that I create my pulp with, which is a very specific kind of tool.

Hayes: It's a tool. So there specialized tools in this outfit?

Huber: Yeah, and the frames with the moulds and deckles that you form sheets with. He was a paper tool maker, and a papermaker, and he taught papermaking. And I'm still friends with Lee. We're still good friends. He lives in Boston. And I studied with him in Los Angeles.

Hayes: He was in Los Angeles at the time?

Huber: Right. And Don Farnsworth, which was a brief stent and he was a paper chemist and an artist. And then Bob Nugent who is an artist, who I'm still in touch with, who lives in Sonoma County and teaches at Sonoma State. And he was the artist that I chose. He is a papermaker and a painter and a sculptor.

Hayes: Interesting. So, when say you studied with, are these is paid lessons?

Huber: Well, I paid to go to a workshop and then I would stay in touch with them and keep picking their brain. (laughs) One on one. (laughs) Well, they knew I needed information, and I was curious and I wanted information and, you know there would be a great healthy exchange.

Hayes: And it's also complimentary that you come forward and say you're medium is what I want to do. So a life in California was training, and working, and then doing art at night? When was your time?

Huber: I had so much energy at that age it was-- yeah, I was going-- I was almost an insomniac. So, yeah, I would surf, I would-- before I got in a position where I could teach sailing, I was a seamstress, and I moved to southern California at an ideal time because people were wearing costumes in the streets. So, I could have fun creating clothing for individuals, you know, I did a lot of that and bathing suits and things like that.

Hayes: And it wasn't so crazy expensive like it is now. I mean you could make a go of it.

Huber: No, in fact, a number of friends and I, sort of the surfer artist group. I remember these two fellows bought 50 pounds of brown rice and I would pick wild spinach off the cliff. I lived in a little duplex that had avocado trees, ducks in the avocado grove that laid eggs. The ducks were there to eat rattlesnakes so that when the pickers came they wouldn't be bitten by rattlesnakes, and lemons in the front yard. So I had lemons, wild spinach, duck eggs, and avocados and I would trade it around. And these guys with brown rice would trade it around. And we all ate like kings and queens. I mean, we were a very healthy. It was a big barter system.

Hayes: That is great, that is good. And you were very physically oriented and you were doing great. Now did your mom stay in Houston then?

Huber: She stayed in Houston, yeah.

Hayes: So you hopefully could get to see her and so forth?

Huber: Yeah, and my brother was on the road. And one of the reasons I decided to go back on the road for these few months out of the year every year, is because it was the only opportunity I had to see them together.

Hayes: So, he was also a performer?

Huber: He went back on the road and he started-- and he was training with a friend of his and they were going to do a wire act together. His friend fell. And he decided that what he was going to do is what is called run the floor, which is making sure all the riggings are secure, make sure that all the guys are doing what they are supposed to do, and making sure things are safe, and everything is going up and coming down in not only in a safe way, but in a timely way. And for him this was perfect because he transitioned into the film industry, and that's where he is now. He's at _____________ in the film industry. And he is in Los Angeles.

Hayes: But he is still in Los Angeles?

Huber: Well, he started here. It's why I moved here. And I moved here because my brother moved here. He moved my mother here and I was complaining that California was getting crazy, very expensive and too crowded.

Hayes: What year was that?

Huber: Eighty-six is when I started saying, "I'm thinking about moving." In '87, he said, "Come out and look at this." And he had come out here for-- De Laurentiis to work with him. And I came out, and I looked, and I liked it, and I moved here. And it's so funny because after he moved back to California he said, "Well, you ought to really come here." I went, "I've done this once. I'm not going again."

Hayes: You couldn't have afforded it anyway. Every year in California was going higher and higher.

Huber: Yeah, it's expensive.

Hayes: That's great. Your mother was supportive of this kind of art existence?

Huber: Oh, absolutely. She grew up an artist. In fact, it was really hard for me to get it through my head that it was Okay to make money on your work. You could do that for yourself, you didn't have to make money on it and, you know, don't let people dictate to you. She was very staunch. She'd rather see me in poverty than see me give it up, which is, you know, a different kind of being rich. And we would have these conversations about this different...

Hayes: But that's wonderful that she was supportive.

Huber: She's very supportive. Very supportive.

Hayes: Unfortunately your dad didn't get to see it.

Huber: But we drew together all of the time when I was a kid. And I knew already because of the conversations we had that that's who I was. I was an artist, you know, what kind of question is that? What are you going to do? You know.

Hayes: You just inside felt this is what you were?

Huber: Yeah, I mean, why do I have to make a choice? I'm already something.

Hayes: That's great. Talk a little bit then about papermaking because you're the only person in our set that does it.

Huber: That does papermaking?

Hayes: As a serious, principal part of it.

Huber: It's been 30 years now. This is my 30th year being a hand papermaker.

Hayes: But you don't just make paper. You paint on the paper.

Huber: I'm a painter and I use paper as an alternative to canvas. I really like the surface. And I like that you can integrate things.

Hayes: Is there an artist that just makes paper? That wouldn't be a normal art form would it?

Huber: Well, it depends on what you're doing. I mean, if there is a concept behind the sheet you make and you can express that concept then you are a papermaking artist. There are very fine craftsmen who make paper, and specifically make paper as a surface for artist to work on.

Hayes: But is there in a museum somewhere just paper?

Huber: That combination?

Hayes: That's what I mean.

Huber: Oh, yes, in Atlanta. In Atlanta, Georgia the Museum of Paper Science. They've absorbed the collection of Dard Hunter who revived paper in this country when he realized that with the industrial revolution hand papermaking was dying. And he went all over the world documenting hand papermaking and started a mill here in the United States. And there was a huge collection of his in another location that has been absorbed by the museum in Atlanta. And I actually belong to a group of hand papermakers, people passionate about paper, artist who work in paper called the Friends of Dard Hunter. And there's meetings they have every year, and there's a newsletter, and we all stay in touch, a couple hundred of us.

Hayes: The choice you made then when you came to paper was more a medium a work in? You could've of chosen what, canvas?

Huber: I could've of chosen anything. What ended up happening that brought me to this-- and there's-- after I did it then I went, "Why is this feeling so good." Then you have to ask yourself questions, and it all ties back to history. But I was taking printmaking and I was doing some color prints that involved large brayers. And if there were people in the room...

Hayes: What are brayers?

Huber: Roller for your ink. If there were people in the room dust would get airborne and it would get on the roller and then I'd roll my color and there would be a dust speck. And that would be the whole print being ruined when I'd go to print. And so, I started getting a pass from my professors to come in really late at night and work during the night instead of working during the day. And there was another woman who came into work at night because she just wanted the quiet. And I had wanted to do some deep blind embossing, you know, the bar relief surface, where the surface come out and doesn't lay flat. I wanted to do some very deep things. I was dealing with a fan image, and no matter what I used any hand produced paper was breaking surface because I wanted this deep image. I was very frustrated and she said, "Why don't you just make your own paper?" And I, you know, said something like, "Fat chance. You know, whose going to show me how to do that? " And it turned out that she had studied this with Sheril Cunning and she still lives in southern California. She had studied with Ishuro Aba [ph?] who is a living treasure of Japan. And she said, "Well, I'll show you," and started this friendship where she started teaching me to make paper. In that, I learned eastern techniques first, which are far more arduous than western technique. And when I discovered western technique through her as well I thought, "This is a piece of cake," you know, comparatively speaking. And so, two years back and forth and I finally went, "That's it." I kept wanting to do paper. I didn't want to paint on canvas.

Hayes: But you still wanted to paint?

Huber: I still wanted to paint. And I still wanted to make objects.

Hayes: Isn't there a whole set of artist that do paper in various shapes and so forth?

Huber: Certainly. In fact, you are sitting right next to a plaster mold for a hand-cast book. See this thing next to you on this tin tray here?

Hayes: Over here?

Huber: Underneath that. That silicone mold is for a bar relief book that's about this big. So the book goes like this. And it's for a non-pageable book for a series that I did called, The Woven Word. And it had all these woven surfaces in the pages, but it was one integral sheet of paper. Not a broken sheet, not a bound sheet.

Hayes: So as a paper artist you've also adopted, in sense, almost as a sculptor too then?

Huber: Yeah and you know, then it depends on what I want to do. If being sculptural is what I need to do to get the concept across or to make the object then it's sculptural. I've taught mold making before up at Pyramid Atlantic in Washington D.C. and that's naturale for hand papermakers, hand bookmakers, and artist who want to make it work in paper. So I've done a lot of mold making.

Hayes: I'm trying to help the readers to understand that papermaking is a really a broad field.

Huber: It's very broad.

Hayes: When you speak of it. But for those of us who don't know it wouldn't understand, right?

Huber: Right. It can be textural. It can be dimensional. It can have what's called, inclusions meaning, let's say, you're looking at snow and there are leaves emerging through the frost. That's integral to that layer of snow. You can do that when you make your own paper. You can make things, little shards or leaves or...

Hayes: Come right out from the surface.

Huber: Yeah, just emerge through the surface. And that's a really wonderful thing to do. It gives you a sense of the paper comes with its own story. Before you even approach it you're almost collaborating with the surface rather than dictating to it. You become integral to the surface rather than separate from it and dictating.

Hayes: Seems like your early pottery is still around in the sense because...

Huber: Shards.

Hayes: Your hands, using your hands.

Huber: Oh yeah, all that malleable stuff. I think it's really important to talk about why paper had such a romance for me. And that has to do with two things growing up in the circus as a kid. One was that moving around all of the time I couldn't have a library card. I loved books. I could go to a library. But I could never have books, especially because when we were on the season working, we were living in a trailer. Off season we were in our homes, but on season we were in a trailer so I could have a few books, but not many. And I couldn't have library books. And so from a very early age I made my own books like this big. I made my own little library, so there's fines and things, you know, and cut then out and even before I knew cursive I'd scribble and-- you know. So I did a library, and I loved paper. And when I finally was able to get a library card, I remember, I must have been seven-and-a half years old; eight-years-old I had my first library card. I would check out as many books as they would let me have. And I would take then home, and I would page the books, and I would smell the books, and leave them open around my room and, you know, just absolutely be in love with the book. And later I would peruse the isles in the library, and I would close my eyes and I would just inhale. And the books that had a certain aroma I would check those out. And it turned out that those books were older papers.

Hayes: Interesting.

Huber: Older papers because they were all 100 percent rag. And, you know, paper always takes in moisture. It's living. It's not a dead thing. When those older books would take in moisture, especially in Houston...

(crew talk)

Hayes: So you were saying you'd smell the older books.

Huber: Yeah, the older papers because they would be damp in Houston where the humidity is sometimes 100 percent and libraries didn't have such great humidity control. So I would check the books out because of the aroma. And then I noticed that the paper was different. So that was my first curiosity about paper. When I had the opportunity to make paper the first time and put my hands into that vat full of water and this cool wetness it brought something else back. And that was when we would be on the road as children the very, very obsessive thing about being on the road was water. Where do you get it? How do you get it? How much can you get? Do you have to carry it? Do you hose it? If you're not there first, are you so far down the line that there's no water pressure? And if you have waste water where do you have to take it? All this stuff about water. If you had to make a trip in a very short period of time, well you're not going to drink a lot of water while you're traveling because then you have to stop and use the restroom. So there was all of this about water. Our home in New York was in Greenwood Lake, which was on a nine mile lake. And that was always a very rich time. It didn't matter what was going on in life. If you had water access it was soothing, it was an area of comfort. You could relax and have this richness of water around you. And it almost reminds me of a dune. I loved the Dune series and later after reading the Dune series by Frank Herbert I thought, "Well, it's because of the water thing," you know. That's why it was such a romantic book for me, there's all of this water that I was attracted to. But hand papermaking took me first in that way.

Hayes: Interesting. I think at the end maybe if we have time you'll take us out to your shop and I can see some of the elements and hear you talk about it. Because for most of us paper just comes, right? I mean, you know, it's a commercial process and you buy it. So when you're starting from nothing with your paper what are the basic ingredients? What goes into it?

Huber: I do a 100 percent rag.

Hayes: And what does that mean?

Huber: A 100 percent rag means these blue jeans, cotton shirt, ramie shirt, linen which is flax. I cut fabrics up into one inch pieces and I put then into my beater. That's the machine that breaks it down. And it starts off very coarse and becomes like a very fine loose oatmeal that goes into a vat.

Hayes: It breaks up those strips?

Huber: It breaks it up. I have a drum with square teeth that's about this big around. It sits in sort of elliptical down-up trough, water goes around. There's a bed plate that fits that drum, it's the same configuration. And it also has square teeth. The drum rotates, the water and the fabric go through between the drum and the bed plate, they go around, they come back through. And as they start breaking down and getting frayed I can lower that drum into the bed plate. And then it beats the fiber finer and finer.

Hayes: Now by beating. It's actually beating up and down?

Huber: This. It's doing this action, its scrapping like that.

Hayes: And it's breaking those fibers up?

Huber: It's breaking those fibers down.

Hayes: Is it damaging them?

Huber: Not just chopping. What you want is you want a fiber to do this. Lots of times when I'm teaching people basic hand papermaking they can't afford a beater, but I want them to be enthusiastic about it and go out and be able to it themselves. So we use what's called cotton linters. And that's the fuzz off of the cottonseed. That's already a very short fiber. All you do is hydrate it, soak it in some water, through it in your blender and you can make a perfectly adequate sheet of paper out of that. I don't use cotton linters because I paint and I'm pretty aggressive on the surfaces. I want it to be durable so I use the rag. And the rag because I'm going to slice the fiber rather than chop it means that I have more overlap. So when the water evaporates out it's doing this and locking tightly.

Hayes: A little stronger then?

Huber: Right. Rather than this and that's your whole thing holding it together.

Hayes: Now does the color of your rough stock matter or not?

Huber: Yeah, if I want to do blue I beat up blue jeans. If I think I want to go with a white surface I'll have white shirts. I have, you know, all of my colors are separated.

Hayes: You have to run different times?

Huber: Yeah, and the color knocks down. These blue jeans would be probably a third of this blue.

Hayes: Can you intensify the color then with dyes?

Huber: Sure. I can do that or I can just paint it. You know, I use all water based paints. I don't use anything-- I use wax now a good deal.

Hayes: And what does that mean?

Huber: Pardon?

Hayes: What do you mean you use wax?

Huber: Wax, encaustic, I use wax on the surface, sometimes, or I'll melt a pigment into a leach of beeswax, and use some of that and use some of that.

Hayes: Now, if I were just thinking of a commercial paper, is the machinery same process, but it's wood pulp?

Huber: It's different because of the forming. Yes, it's wood pulp, and that takes a lot of chemicals. It's so acidic. I know that you've probably saved newspaper articles. And, you know that after a few years, you go to unfold them, and they're really fragile. They're eating themselves up. Regardless of how many buffer chemicals are put in, they eat themselves up. It has to be bleached. That's why it smells so bad about-- around papermaking institutions that use wood. I went to Crane Paper in Massachusetts, which produces all the paper for our currency in this country. And, most people are familiar with the Crane paper line of note cards and things like that. Absolutely a clean industry because they're using 100 percent rag, The one reason they use 100 percent rag is because it is extremely durable. If you leave a dollar bill in your pocket and wash your pants, take them out, you'll see your dollar bill is still good. You know, it's still hanging together. They're incredible papermakers, and they made the paper for Paul Revere. So, it's an old American institution. A lot of the rag that they use comes from North Carolina, in the textile industry. So, you've got a little piece of North Carolina in your hand when you're handling a bill.

Hayes: The term rag, in essence means...

Huber: It's made from rags.

Hayes: already previously processed cloth.

Huber: Well, mine's not preprocessed. I have to process it. Crane paper has to process.

Hayes: But, I mean, its original form was a piece of cloth.

Huber: Cloth, a piece of rag. And, in old Europe and early times here, we didn't have hand papermaking in the United States until 1650. But, there were people who had a profession called, rag picking.

Hayes: That's right. I've heard of that before.

Huber: And, they would go door-to-door, calling for rags.

Hayes: And, then, they resold those?

Huber: And, they would pick out the rags and throw the ones out that were useless. And, I tell you, Crane Paper, during those days, had an epidemic of cholera, because of the dirty rags. And, the rag pickers' building burned out, at one time, you know. So, anyway, yeah, rags. And, in Europe, they had rags. And, before, they had a beater like I have mine, no one wanted to live in villages that had paper mills, because they would have to ret the fiber. They'd have to literally rot it. Bacterial breakdown to soften the fibers. So, they was really a stinky place. (laughs) I don't have a stinky place. (laughs)

Hayes: Even though this is an auditory and a written report, we want to make sure they're understanding, you don't have a stinky place.

Hayes: You have an old factory in process, here.

Huber: No scratch and sniff.

Hayes: So, that's interesting about the rag, because you use it in a very technical sense. And, for most of us, a rag is just a throwaway, yes. Is there still a rag industry of sorts? I mean, people don't go door-to-door.

Huber: Well, no. The rags that Crane Paper gets is mostly discard cuts from T-shirt manufacturers, any kind of a clothing manufacturer that's using 100 percent cotton or linen, or something like that.

Hayes: So, there's not a recycle industry?

Huber: No, it's not. I think it's because of fear of infection.

Hayes: That's true. You don't know who, where, what.

Huber: You know, we have to be-- right, and that's why rag pickers would very often become ill.

Hayes: Now, where do you get our supply?

Huber: My friends give me their old T-shirts and their old blue jeans. And, I've limited it down, because I used to find bags of stuff hanging on my door. (laughs) You know, taking a quick trip to the good will.

Hayes: Fritzi's good will.

Huber: Yeah, just take it to Fritzi. It's like, gee, I can't use this.

Hayes: Did you give them a receipt for that donation, or no? (laughs)

Huber: No, they just leave it hanging on my door. (laughs) So, I'm down to nice, white linen shirts, T-shirts, blue jeans.

Hayes: And those are the best products for you? And, then, you have to worry about what colors you put into that. And most of the time it's a flat product that you come away with? If you're going to paint on something, would we recognize it as a flat sheet?

Huber: It would depend on what I wanted to do. This one right here has some texture on the surface. And there are so many different ways to form a sheet of paper. What I normally do is, I form a sheet of paper. It's very malleable, like clay is. And, whatever surface I release it onto...

Hayes: The surface you release it on to?

Huber: When I release it off of the screen that I've formed it on. I form it on a screen.

Hayes: Okay, so, you have a goop that you've made.

Huber: Yeah, I have it like a tub full of this very loose oatmeal, fine oatmeal. Then, you have what's called a Mould and Deckle. It's a screen, a frame with a screen on it.

Hayes: Say that word again.

Huber: A frame with a screen on it.

Hayes: No, no. Mould and...

Huber: Mould and Deckle.

Hayes: Mold and, spell that M-O-.

Huber: D-E-C-K-L-E. M-O-U-L-D. some people spelled it M-O-L-D. But, M-O-U-L-D is the traditional spelling.

Hayes: Deckle, interesting.

Huber: And, a deckle, yes. It's two pieces.

Hayes: And, that's from the paper trade, just a term that kit evolved for this tool.

Huber: That's old European papermaking. It's moulds and deckles. Prior to that, in the East, it was a sugeta. (laughs) Different technique. Different technique. But, you basically need a mold. Everyone has molds. Something that you can scoop into that vat, pick it up out of the water with the fibers resting on top of this porous surface. The water drains out. You do a little shaking motion to align the fibers. And, then, at some point, you stop that shaking motion, allow it to drain a little more. And, you transfer that freshly formed sheet, onto another surface.

Hayes: Okay. Now, is this like a wire-mesh type thing, usually?

Huber: The older ones, 11th, 12th century, early European ones, were brass. I have a polyester heat-shrink screen that I use. I have an old brass one.

Hayes: But, how did brass let through water, though?

Huber: It was woven. I'm sure you've seen old laid linen sheets. If you hold them up to the light, you look at the watermark, and you can see fine lines, kind of like this screen here, that roll-up screen. You see fine lines, and you see the connecting threads, right?

Hayes: And, they were actually made out of metal?

Huber: Yes, they were made out of brass, and, so the paper would pick up that brass mold, the pattern. Because, as it's draining, every place there's a space, it drains fast. Every place that there's a rod, it drains slow. So, it's thicker where the rod is and thinner where the rod isn't.

Hayes: Now, is that true in your own current one, or is it pretty uniform?

Huber: It's pretty uniform, unless I decide I want to use another technique, because I do have a brass-laid screen. I do have the polyester heat-shrink, which is very even, and very even drainage. So, I usually use that. There's also a Nepalese way of casting. And the Nepalese way is just a frame with a screen on it.

Hayes: Is this Nepal?

Huber: As in Nepal and Tibet, and that part of the world. They don't have deckles. They just have that. And, you just pick up the fiber into the bottom of that thing. You shake, and you let it dry directly in that screen. So, every time you make a sheet, you need a frame with a screen on it, for each sheet.

Hayes: And, then, you peel it off?

Huber: And, then, you peel it off when it's dry.

Hayes: Now, your normal one is that you take it and flip it on to a surface?

Huber: Right. Except for this that we were looking at, I did that Nepalese, because I wanted a large sheet. And, just think, if that were wet fiber, full of water with the mould and deckle that big, number one, I'm standing like this. Number two, how do you lift that. You can't lift it. So, I shift over onto Nepalese when I want to do a large sheet.

Hayes: Do you go back in time after time and build a layer?

Huber: It depends on your fiber. Now, if I'm not using 100 percent rag, if I'm doing something like this white layer here, the black layer is actually black denim that some friends sent me from out of state. And, so, it looks a slight gray, but it's a black denim. And, what I've done is I've released it on top of another fiber paper that's extremely thin. That fiber paper that's extremely thin is abaca. It's a non-fruit bearing relative of the banana family. And, it's from the Philippines. And, it's also known as Manila hemp. But, it will act in a western way, or an eastern way. And, an eastern way, you can make layers. This casting is probably about 10 very thin layers, the white.

Hayes: Did you keep going back, or did you lay the layers on afterwards?

Huber: I kept pouring some on. And then, because when you're using that fiber, it's so thin and so fine, you cannot see it in the vat. The vat just looks vaguely milky. So, what you do is you make the water more viscous. You make the water thicker, that way the fibers won't sink. But, because the water is thicker, it drains extremely slowly. So, when you pour some more fiber with this slurry full of more viscous water, it's draining slowly, and you can rock it back and forth. And, as it's draining, it's recoating your surface. So, you get layers of surface. It's more gossamer.

Hayes: Would you be considered a fiber artist?

Huber: Yeah, well, it depends on whom you're talking to, you know. Papermakers think I'm a painter. Painters think I'm a papermaker. I've seem to fall nicely into fiber, you know. (laughs) I've worn a bunch of hats. You know about hats. (laughs)

Hayes: Are you're saying that they don't accept you?

Huber: (laughs) I'm accepted, but with kind of, you know, a little question mark.

Hayes: Well, I guess the point is that you have a multitude of choices to make, as a true artist, right?

Huber: Yeah, and you need to make them ahead of time, in some instances. Because I knew I wanted to paint like this, that's the kind of paper I had to make. To make that kind of paper, I have to use a specific technique. If I want that kind of paper, I have to use that technique. So, you have to pretty much decide where you're going with the fiber before you get to the painting process. That has no painting. That's just straight.

Hayes: That's not as spontaneous let's see what happens.

Huber: Well, it can be. But, if you like what happens, you should remember how you did that, so you can do it again. You know, the technique, anyway.

Hayes: Do you catalog and log all of these, in the sense of each experiment, what happened, or?

Huber: I used to. And, then, for a while, what I ended up logging, instead of technique and beating, I tend to make paper in the same way that I cook. I feel it. I listen to it. I do what's called a freeness test and put a jar of water, some pulp in there, I shake it up, and I look at it in the light and say, does that look right, you know. And, so, it's almost like cooking for me, now. And, I can hear my beater. I've had my beater since 1988, so I know my beater. And, when it sounds right, I know what that means for the fiber.

Hayes: You mentioned earlier in the conversation that a man who was a tool maker said, "To get a beater, you must go to a specialist to make this."

Huber: Yeah, you can't just go buy it. They're not just out there. There are several beater makers now. At the time, there was only a couple.

Hayes: You're a painter that works with paper, and you're a papermaker that also works with paint. If I just said, papermaker artist, how many are we talking about in the country?

Huber: Probably a couple hundred.

Hayes: Those who are serious artists doing this?

Huber: Right, working in handmade paper.

Hayes: Do you consider it kind of a historic salvation of this, as a craft?

Huber: Well, I think what is really interesting that's coming out of this, is there is some really divine, new, one-of-a-kind books. I love making books, myself, and lots of times I'll make a one-of-a-kind, unique book. And, there won't be another off of it. And, a lot of that is going on, and that's pretty exciting. And, that is something my heart really goes do. And, I'm finding myself doing more of that, all the time, in that it's very much-- goes back to the circus thing again. You have this innocuous-looking object, who knows what's in there. And, you open it up, and this whole big thing occurs. And it's very entertaining. And, then, you close it back up, and that experience is gone. You know, it's like a little bit of magic, to be able-- this is right in your face, right there. And, I love the painting, but I'm torn, right now, between how often do I want to do this. When I'm doing this, sometimes I'm thinking, I just really want to go finish that book.

Hayes: Now, tell me what you mean by a book?

Huber: If you want to pause, I'll bring one out. I'll bring two out.

Hayes: Can you get by there?

Huber: Yeah. Excuse me.

Hayes: Oh, that's great. These are all so interesting to me.

Huber: You're finding thing out? Now, I'm still working on the cover, on one. But, I'll open it up for you.

Hayes: That's really great, sorry.

Huber: That's quite all right. Okay, you're ready for this.

Hayes: Can you do it sitting down?

Huber: Yeah, I can do that.

Hayes: Fritzi is your name? You've always been Fritzi?

Huber: Yes. I was named after my father. His name was Fritz. And, my mother was told that she would never have children. And, I came along, and they named me after him. (laughs)

Hayes: And, then, you had a brother, so that was...

Huber: I had a brother, yeah. She fell 80 feet. This is true. Old-timers have told me this. All right, she was in an infield in a fair ground, and she hit a guy line. She was doing what's called a sway pole, and that's the 150-foot pole. At 100 feet, there's 50-feet of flex at the top. And, she'd get on the top, and she'd do tricks up there. And, she'd come down to the 100-foot level, and she'd get on what they'd called the Slide for Life, for a rope that went diagonally to the ground. And, she'd get on that, and she'd slide down. Well, she got on the Slide for Life, and she started down, and it snapped. But, she hit a guy line that broke her fall, and, she just relaxed. And, people said she bounced. And, then, there was me and my brother. (laughs)

Hayes: Wait a minute.

Huber: It's true.

Hayes: Did your father have anything to do with this?

Huber: Oh, yeah. (laughs) This is not Divine intervention.

Hayes: Oh, that's right. I mean, let's get the record straight.

Huber: Oh, dad was there. (laughs) That's why I'm named Fritzi, after Fritz, because he was definitely there.

Hayes: Okay. So, you're holding up now?

Huber: This is one of the books.

Hayes: Oh, my goodness. That's interesting..

Huber: A book is a very broad term.

Hayes: This is a two-sheet book. Would you do many, many sheet books?

Huber: Right, this is like a folio. Well, I'll show you another one. So, this one is an accordion-fold book. And, this, like I said, I have to do the cover. This isn't just, a mess. But, that's the cover. So, you start out seeing this, if you were on the shelf, right? And, we have 11 pages in here, a little more than that, actually.

Hayes: Now, did you make this then, in one long strip?

Huber: This is one long strip of paper.

Hayes: And, by a handmade book, you get to choose the texture?

Huber: Everything. Yeah, I colored this one with turmeric. I wanted to use a natural dye. So, the yellow that you see coming through on the fruits, that's actually the turmeric color of the paper.

Hayes: And, then, you did painting, and did you do the lettering?

Huber: And, then, I painted, and I lettered, and collaged and drew.

Hayes: Now, who do you find, in the real world of purchasers, who's interested in this? Are they crafters?

Huber: Harvard University has a collection. Yale has a collection. Every now and then, someone will, you know, really appreciate the books. But, it's not that common, because, you know, what are they going to do with it. It's a book. Most people want the art that encourages to be right there on the wall where everybody can see it. So, every now and then, I'll find somebody who wants a book. But, it's not all that common. I'd like to see...

Hayes: Have you ever done one where the person wants you to say something in the book?

Huber: I did. Ann Brennan commissioned me to do a wedding album for Beth and Ben Steelman. And, when I gave it to them, I mean, this is the most touching exchange I've ever had. Ann said, I want you to be there when you get it. Beth started crying. And, to this day, they can't put their photos in it. (laughs) I made a slit box for it. It's an accordion-fold book, but there's a standard bound book on one side, and on the other side of the accordion, there's another standard-bound book. And, it has pockets. The inclusions are ribbons that run in and out, front and back, that were actually part of her bridal bouquet ribbon. I said, whatever you have from the wedding that you would like to keep as a memory, from the shower or wedding, or whatever, bring me a bag of that stuff. And, so, she did. So, all of these inclusions, it has a little window with some flowers in it, and it's backed by red silk, that's a box, you know. So, it was a very elaborate piece. And, I loved doing it. And, I was really happy that somebody wanted to commission something special like that. But, I also find it humorous that they can't bring themselves to put anything in it.

Hayes: Maybe they feel like it's fragile. In a sense, these are fragile.

Huber: Or, it's at least as heavy, you know. This is a pretty heavy book. That's a pretty heavy paper. I have some others that are more fragile, but this...

Hayes: I would guess that museums would have exhibits and so forth of this, in other words, kind of celebrating the both the technology and the art. But, individuals, it's a very small market.

Huber: It's a very small market. Not that many galleries want to show them, either. And, every now and then, somebody will be brave enough, or I'll send it off, send something off to a show.

Hayes: Now, you're, in that same vein, I know you've done lots of other projects that are similar, that are construction projects. I mean, tell me about the new product at the public library now. I've seen that.

Huber: Oh, okay, yeah. That is all hand-dyed and hand-painted fabric. And, I used some sheers because they wanted some transparency there. Paper was not going to be adequate for that space.

Hayes: That doesn't have the durability?

Huber: Well, for the scale that they wanted, and for how long it needs to last, I just didn't feel good about it. I did make a different proposal with handmade paper, though. I gave them three proposals. One was resin. One was hand-cast resin. One was handmade paper. And, then, this one with the fabric, and the fabric is what received the vote. The hand-cast paper one would have been an open book with pages flying out. This was all suspended, too, with pages flying out. The page starts folding on itself. And, then, it has another fold. And, as it starts folding, you know how their logo has the color on the edges? It would start out with the paper having the color on the edges, and then growing more intense in color, and, finally becoming a crane. And, this flock of cranes flying off in the distance, becoming smaller and smaller, until they're very brilliant, and nothing. That's what I wanted to do. (laughs) I think they thought that was too much. (laughs)

Hayes: Well, what size was this going to be?

Huber: It was going to take up that whole space. Yeah, I was going to take up the whole space that the sheers take up now.

Hayes: Well, I mean, this is a 30 by 30 by 30 box. I mean, huge.

Huber: Yeah, it's a big box. But, I really, I love this project. And, Hiroshi loved it, too. Hiroshi went, what were they thinking? (laughs) They didn't get this? But, they were nervous about paper. And, most people are nervous. I actually can treat the surfaces so that they're impervious to airborne materials. I have one commission up in the triangle area, for LORD [ph?] corporation, for their world headquarters. They had a big, curved wall that went from the entry up to the mezzanine level. And, they chose paper because it can contour to the wall, and not be flat planes on a curve. And, I can make it do that. It's 65 square feet. So, I had to treat that.

Hayes: Now, what do you mean, treat?

Huber: So that it's impervious to airborne pollutants, and it doesn't, like, start absorbing acids and things like that.

Hayes: Is that a chemical that you put on that?

Huber: I did. I try not to use it, if I can help it. Actually, Kodak used to make it. And, it's harder to find now, because everything's changing with photography, as you know. It was called Cellulose Acetate Butyrate, nickname CAB. And, it was a small, plastic cellulose that broke down with acetone. And, you'd paint it on, and it would make it all-- looks the same, feels like plastic.

Hayes: Is that right?

Huber: Yeah, it permeated the surface.

Hayes: But, it doesn't give it a shine? It doesn't change? Well, that's interesting.

Huber: No, it doesn't change.

Hayes: So, you can or cannot still get that?

Huber: I have some. I don't know if I can still get it. But, I try not to use it, if I can help it. I had to do a resin impregnation, on some paper, for one project that was...

Hayes: A resin?

Huber: I had to squeegee resin onto the paper, at one point, and that does give it a kind of a glossy, almost stained-glass quality. More light passes through it. But, it was for a specific project in Houston. And, that was really noxious. I just refused to do that anymore, too toxic. Too toxic. I won't do it. And, so, now I can get this vegetable-based sizing that's pretty good, that I can put on.

Hayes: But, you do need to protect them. I mean, what about this, the one that you're doing now? I assume you would sell through a gallery or to an individual.

Huber: Yes. I have a wax surface, and I also have some of the vegetable-based sizing on it.

Hayes: Do most people frame your work, and then put glass over it?

Huber: It depends on how they feel about it. Now, there's a long work out there that's not framed. I like it not framed. I like the sense that maybe it's a shard of a piece of an ancient wall, at the same time new, because you have that feeling of fragility or maybe a found object from the deckled edge that's all the way around that hand-formed edge.

Hayes: Yeah, that's right. Of course, that probably comes a little bit form your print background, too, because many prints are about the edges.

Huber: Well, that's also showing off the hand-cast paper, the special paper. (laughs)

Hayes: Because, if you get it too framed out they don't even have a sense of it.

Huber: Yeah. Well, if I frame these, and lots of times I do, I make sure that they're just floating, so you can see the deckled edge, and not crop that out. There was something else we were talking about. I can't remember what it was. Oh, the library piece. Yeah, that's all hand-dyed, all hand-painted. And, it's not the first time I've done something like that. When I was on the grant for the Gala Days [ph?] Spectacles, it was a three-year grant for St. John's Museum, then the Cameron Art Museum, of a special festival that happens in Nigeria Cote D'ivoire, that part of the world, Ghana, for Spring and Spring Rains. And, we had Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble come in as our leaders, basically. And, dancers and artists in this area collaborated with he and the dancers and created costumes and dances and masks. And, we had this huge performance out at Airlie Gardens, this cumulative point of three years of doing this. And, for that, I made a hand-dyed, 1,200-foot quilt top.

Hayes: Quilt top, what does that mean?

Huber: A very traditional first quilt that a young girl might make. And, you see it, the Gee's Bend quilts, all the basic African American quilts. The first one might be a strip quilt. And, that means like, let's say you have some legs of pants or sleeves. Rather than cutting them up, you start patching them, together in stripes and fitting the stripes together and make this strip quilt..

Hayes: Sewing them onto a background of some sort?

Huber: Well, the quilt top is just the patched-together fabric. And, that's what this was. It was just a top. But, we did the dyeing in a traditional Indigo and a color close to what you're wearing, that's more of a terra cotta, to emulate mud cloth, which is a traditional African dye, as well.

Hayes: They needed 65 feet?

Huber: It was 1,200 square feet. 1,200 square feet.

Hayes: What would hold it together?

Huber: Sewing. I borrowed a sailmaker's loft sewing machine. (laughs) I went there, to the sailmaker, with the fabric and they let me use the machine, because they knew about the Gala Day, and I said, "Does anybody need to do any sewing?" And, I went, "Me." You know, I've got all this fabric. And, at first, some of the volunteers from the museum said, "Oh, I have a sewing machine." I'll help. That lasted about one session. (laughs).

Hayes: Not strong enough.

Huber: Had volunteer dyers come in, because it was a lot of work.

Hayes: And, where did the product go, in it's presentation?

Huber: It went over the dancers and drummers, as they were entering to do their performance. They came in under like a-- you know how the Chinese dragons have everybody under them? They came in under this big canopy, at Airlie Gardens. And, when they reached the performance area, then the fabric came off and revealed all the dancers and drummers.

Hayes: Where is it at now?

Huber: I have it. (laughs) It was going to get lost in the shuffle, and I went, "I'm taking that home." No, I have it, and I have a wonderful photograph of it. But, I'm sitting on that baby. (laughs) That was a lot of work. And, you know, as much as people love that we used it as a back curtain for one of the DREAMS Programs at one time, DREAMS of Wilmington, when they did a program. But, it's huge. It's in my attic.

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