Jim Cohn: Hand Made Papers and Fabric Images


While living in Canton, New York, in the winter of 1990, I began making paper with a blender, frame, and press. I'd take fabric scraps from the community at Birdsfoot Farm, an organic farming commune I was living at with my first wife, Donna, and walk down the road to the paper mill of our neighbor, Velma Bolyard, a master paper maker. The winters in St. Lawrence County were long and cold. I wanted to throw myself into something new.

I liked Velma's studio. It was a place I could hang out all by myself and do art. That spring, after a period of getting my chops down, I decided to start up a new poetry magazine, Napalm Health Spa. I also decided to forgo tradition card stock covers and printing in order to create my own individually decorated covers made by hand. Instead of using staples, I decided to bind each magazine by hand, which I did with green or black kite string.

I used a pointed punch and hammer to make holes through the covers and paper for every copy. Every winter and spring for a little more than a decade afterwards, I would not only edit and type up the magazine, but also I would create handmade paper sheets for each copy and bind them myself. It was a fairly labor-intensive process, a poetics labor of love. I enjoyed it as a meditation on the poets and their poems.

The part I loved best was drying new sheets. You put them on the window. I would wait all year for sheet making most because of how it felt when the windows were completely covered. I loved peeling them off the glass and looking at each one. It was like painting. You didn't really know the true effect of what you'd done until the canvas dried. The number of copies of an issue was based on how much window space I had at the time.

The winter and spring of 1992 was a period of production that I felt like showing others. I was into landscapes and maps. I am still quite fond of these pieces. The maps, in particular, are a kind of physical introduction to a symbol I would reintroduce in the naming of the online Museum of American Poetics (MAP).

Jim Cohn
Boulder, Colorado
22 June 2011


Click on thumbnail to enlarge.
"Sunset & hay bales" (paper and fabric scraps, 1992).
  The image has bindings cropped out. The sheet is a cover for one copy of the 1992 issue. Formed from scraps I'd gathered, this construction was something I'd kept in mind from haying one week at a neighbor's farm. The green fabric bled all over the yellow. It was a fiery red sunset, casting the deepest and richest shades of colors. I like the clouds.
"Mountains, stars & moon" (paper and fabric scraps, 1992.)
  This sheet never made it to a cover of the 1992 issue of Napalm Health Spa. I guess I liked it too much. Although I was living near the Adirondacks, and spent a good deal of time camping there, it appears that I was thinking about Colorado and the mountains there. I would move back to Boulder that summer.
"Little USA in Black" (paper and black fabric scrap, 1992).
  I wasn't trying to make any kind of political statement at al with this piece. This was my first attempt using the outline of the continental USA on paper. You can see the hand stitched kite string binding and cover of a copy of Napalm Health Spa: Report 1992.
"USA in Red" (paper and red fabric scrap)
  There's some pretty detailed silhouetting in this, my second continental USA cut piece of fabric on paper. This remained an unstitched sheet. I just kept it. I was thinking of Native America when I did this one.
"Big USA in Black" (paper and black fabric scrap, 1992).
  A bigger version, less clouds. I was thinking of Black America, the enormity of so many, such greatness generations enslaved for the making of America. A sheet, not a cover.
"Color USA" (paper and fabric scraps, 1992).
  This was the beginning of mapmaking for me. It wasn't just a frame anymore. I was conceptualizing content, as it is today. Not as it used to mean. I once wrote the painter Jasper Johns a letter I liked his work so much.
"Many Colors USA" (paper and fabric scraps, 1992).
  This piece is a copy cover that never went out. Really, it was the gateway to the visual architecture that went into the Museum of American Poetics website. I needed that kind of texture to be an element of the content. I never understood why I liked Jasper Johns, but what I was feeling he'd more or less executed back when he did Map (1961).


© 1998 - 2011 Jim Cohn. All rights reserved.