Twinrocker Handmade Paper: A Chunk of
San Francisco in a Hoosier Cornfield.
REVISED. Twinrocker Handmade Paper began in San Francisco in 1971. Then in 1972, Kathryn and Howard Clark relocated to Brookston Indiana where it thrives today. On Thursday October 16 at the Internet Archive the Clarks gave the Keynote speech to an attentive audience. This nostalgic lecture focused more on the people who encouraged and inspired them than on their own impressive accomplishments.
In San Francisco, Kathryn was working 10-hour days six days a week as a fine art lithography printer in a Tamarind offshoot shop named Collectors Press. It was there she noticed that all the fine handmade papers were imported from Europe. Howard explained. “It was the fine book printers who encouraged us to make paper, but Ernest DeSoto at Collectors Press showed us that Twinrocker could be a professional studio like a lithography workshop, instead making limited editions of handmade paper for prints and fine books.”
There wasn’t anyone to teach them how to make paper, but Howard borrowed Dard Hunter’s The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft. Although not a how-to book, it gave them some basic information. He also borrowed Henry Morris’ Omnibus with an article on the Laws beater which inspired him to research, design and build a Hollander beater, the pulp beating machine that macerates and hydrates the fiber into a pulp. The Clarks also visited Prof. Hoffman and Dr. Urabec who made paper every Friday afternoon at California State University in Los Angeles and had made a Hollander beater from the design in Henry Morris’ book.
The Clarks had met at Wayne State University in Detroit where Howard studied Industrial Design. And with a previous degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue, he had the skills to make a beater but neither were sure they could make and sell paper. “The Morgan Auto Company was also one of our mentors. This English sports car company, still making coach-built cars by hand, was surviving and flourishing. It showed us it was possible to use old-fashioned technology in the modern age, and hopefully thrive.”
Roger Levenson in Berkeley was their first client to order handmade paper. The second, and most important order, was from Collectors Press. They wanted 22 × 30″ paper for a suite of fine art lithographs by Jose Luis Cuevas titled Cuevas Comedies. These early commissions were very encouraging. “Most of the paper we made was for people who were making limited edition, original prints. At that time it was hard for people to afford handmade paper for books, now that is changing.”
“Save Rags” was the title of their first show. For it they moved their papermaking shop to the Walnut Creek Art Center, the entry fee being an old rag which would be made into cotton pulp. The Clarks reminisced that they made paper in the gallery, acting like they moved a paper studio into an art center all the time. Howard said that was the first pulp coming out of the beater he was satisfied with. The show connected them with many knowledgeable and influential people in California book arts.
The name and the logo for Twinrocker came from Kathryn’s printers chop which was a capitol K above a capitol C to look like a rocking chair. They wanted their watermark to be symmetrical so it would look the same from either side of the sheet. Kathryn and her twin sister Margaret Prentice both like to rock in rocking chairs so the Twinrocker logo became a single rocker with two back-to-back seats. They also jokingly called it “family therapy.”
Once making the decision to become papermakers they moved to the family farm that Howard’s great, great grandfather had bought with his Civil War pension. The Clarks built a paper studio on the farm property. Henry Morris said this was the first paper mill built since the late 1800s. Their first year in Indiana, the Clarks visited Dard Hunter II in Chillicothe, Ohio who gave them some British moulds and whispered “I trust you, and don’t quit.” Kathryn said “when times got tough they thought Dard Hunter believed in us and we couldn’t quit.” They also visited the Dard Hunter collection in Appleton, Wisconsin whose curator, Arnie Grummer was the catalyst that inspired and connected the contemporary pioneers of hand papermaking. The Clarks said, “You could count the number of people interested in making handmade paper on one hand at that time.” Word trickled out that handmade paper was being made in Brookston, Indiana, and new people visited who became mentors including a group of typographers from Chicago and Gary Frost and Paul Banks from the Newberry Library. Also Claire Van Vliet of the Janus Press in Vermont was the first person to ask if they could create a large book illustration completely from colored paper pulps. That book was Aura, made in the early 1970s.
Howard casually mentioned “that for a brief time I was making beaters and presses for other individuals and universities, about 40 beaters and 50 presses in total.” Then only half-jokingly added “That’s when I found out there was a harder way to make a living than making handmade paper.” There is absolutely no question that the Renaissance of hand papermaking in America would not have been possible if people did not have access to the equipment, knowledge, and supplies Twinrocker was offering.
When asked about cash flow Howard thought about 50% of the money Twinrocker made was from selling paper and about 50% was from selling supplies. The selling of equipment and supplies and their willingness to take on interested “students of paper” was crucial to the second wave of hand papermakers to emerge in America. Many of the following people worked and learned with and from Twinrocker in some capacity and then went on to become important artists and/or contributors to the papermaking and book arts fields including: Tim Barrett, Kent Christman, Antoinette Dwan, Susan Hostetter, Janet Hughes, Katherine Kiddie, Janet Lawrence, Todd Matus, Lee Scott McDonald, Katie McGregor, Tim Payne, Peggy Prentice, Czashka Ross, Barb Tetenbaum, Susan Totten, and Bernie Vinzani.
Twinrocker makes handmade paper from a variety of fibers the bulk of which are cotton. These beautiful papers are suitable for all media including letterpress printing, drawing, pastel, watercolors, and pen and ink. Making paper from tiny invitations to sheets 34 × 48″, Twinrocker paper has been used in hundreds of projects. In their lecture, the Clarks mentioned some of them including making paper for Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, at U.L.A.E., William Wiley and Jim Dine at Landfall Press; Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, Richard Avadon, at Arion Press; along with sculpture Diane Samuels, and private presses like those of Walter Hamady, Peter Koch, Gaylord Schanilec, and Claire Van Vliet. They mentioned one of their favorite books was Ballet for Opening Day by Nelson Algren published by Sherwin Beach Press (Robert McCamant) because the binding by Trisha Hammer, included the sewing of the etchings into the text paper with the baseball stitch. The custom Twinrocker cotton rag paper was the same for both the text and the etchings with the exception that the paper for the etchings had a small Jute fleck to represent the dirt of the playing field.
Travis Becker, who was trained by Kathryn, became the owner of Twinrocker in 2008 after having made paper there since the early 1990s and having been general manager for two years. Their mission and goals remain the same, nothing seems to have changed.
Kathryn now spends time painting in watercolor and oils while Howard plays the banjo and guitar in several local bands, and teaches children to play. Howard said his “last act” was making a 100 ton hydraulic press for Twinrocker, but it is plain from their keynote address that they are not finished contributing to the wave of handmade paper in America.