Paper as Object: Beyond a Supporting Role

March 2018

The most recent Mellon Object-based Study Workshop hosted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in March 2018 focused on the concept of paper as a physical object and as an artist’s material. The workshop gave Penn’s cohort of first-year graduate students, along with a small number of graduate students from the Tyler School of Art Temple University, an opportunity to learn about the global history of paper from its origins to the present and study paper from the different perspectives of papermakers, artists, curators, conservators, and scholars. Penn Professor Dr. Julie Davis collaborated on teaching the workshop with the PMA’s Shelley Langdale, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Nancy Ash, Charles K. Williams, II, Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper, and Tom Primeau, Conservator of Works on Paper.

The day began with a handmade paper session run by local artist Nicole Donnelly, who is the founder of the creative papermaking studio paperTHINKtank ( and is also the President of the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists ( Donnelly walked participants through the multifaceted process of traditional handmade paper techniques and each student was able to mold their own sheets of wove paper. Building on this hands-on foundation in the papermaking process, participants returned to the PMA where they participated in close looking exercises in small groups in the Museum’s Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Study Room and continued on with sessions in the Works of Paper Conservation Lab. Throughout the day, the organizers shared their expertise and provided training in approaches to handling and analyzing works on paper. Students interacted with works on paper from a variety of geographic regions and from time periods ranging from the Renaissance through to the present, providing experiences that they can apply to their future studies in diverse fields of art historical specialization.