Gretchen: How did you start making tools?
Elissa: I was a metals major at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia in the 1970's and realized that the best tools are the ones you make yourself. When I went to work in conservation I saw the need for tools for boxmaking that were smaller than the ones available. I designed the 90-90-45- degree tool (nicknamed the "Nevada" by Garry Harrison) in 1994 and have been making them ever since. The triangles and other shapes came along when book folks asked for special sizes and shapes. Each tool is hallmarked with a wren and "WHT" which stands for Wren Haven Tools. The brass I use is soft brass which means that your knife won't be damaged if you go off square while cutting against it. There aren't alot of women tool makers out there, and I am excited that Shanna Leino will also be at the fair. She is an excellent metalworker!
Elissa: The papers started to develop as an extension of my interest in watercolor painting. Over the years I've studied the various historical decoration techniques as part of my conservation work. I enjoy mixing techniques from differernt traditions such as block printing and paste decoration. Recently I have been working on papers that I coat with a pigmented clay ground that gives a base for block printing with mica, as in Japanese karakame papers. There are many new pigments available now for us to work with. For example, the irgazines, which are intense and very lightfast. My next project is developing papers with the irgazine pigments for a six panel folding screen.
Elissa: The traditional Japanese folding screen, or byobu, presents an image in its perspective context. I like the way the angles of the screen allow for slight differences in the way an image is confronted, especially when the pigments used are irridescent like mica. In my screens I try to have a variation of the design in each panel so that the viewer sees the individual panels as a fluid image. I also have to admit that the assembly of the screens is an appealing process. You end up with an extremely sturdy but lightweight construct, which is the result of layering differerent types of Japanese papers over the wooden core.
Elissa: I suppose I am a traditionalist and look to those artists who embraced aesthetics along with sound knowledge of their materials. This is the conservator in me speaking-- I enjoy art that is meant to be transitory, but I am certain that most artworks produced today will not survive to be 100 or even 50 years old because of materials choices. In the book arts there is a much better awareness of the nature of our materials, and we tend to appreciate the idea of longevity more than our colleagues working in other media.