Five Minutes with paper-maker Mary C. Leto

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comAugust 3, 2012 

  • "The Voice Within" runs through Aug. 17 at Picture This Gallery, 78D Arrow Road on Hilton Head Island. Mary C. Leto will hold a demonstration on paper-making 1 p.m. Aug. 11 at the gallery.


At first, Mary C. Leto wasn't sure what to think when she was called a paper-maker. The artist stumbled into the art form decades ago, initially figuring it to be a diversion from her regular work. Now, she wears the title proudly.

Leto joined with Picture This Gallery owner Mira Scott for "The Voice Within" exhibit. The centerpiece is a 12-foot-long accordion book called "Inner Voices." Leto made the paper for Scott's nature paintings.

Leto, a New Yorker now living in Bluffton, explains how she came to be a paper-maker.

Question. When did you first come across paper-making?

Answer. I went back to school late and thought I'd take up print-making. One of my professors suggested printing on homemade paper. This was in the '80s. There weren't a lot of paper-makers. There was a paper mill in SoHo called Dieu Donne. I sought it out, and I went home and made paper in my kitchen. I thought, "It's this easy to make paper?"

For the rest of my college years I experimented with paper. We'd all play around with pulp. I worked at Dieu Donne for a summer, and I learned about techniques and fibers and how to make paper from plants.

Q. How did you use it in your art?

A. I'd use handmade paper to draw on or make a sculpture with or to make a book. Before long, people were calling me a paper-maker. At first I was a bit offended. I said, "No, no, no, no. I'm an artist. I'm just currently working in that medium." Now, I feel it's such a beautiful thing to make, I'm proud to be a paper-maker.

Q. So, it's overlooked -- most people don't think of paper as art, but it's very much part of the finished piece.

A. If you're making paper you're creating energy. You're putting another level on that work. It's not something from a machine. You've treated it in a way that's part of your art. It's like clay or wood or anything. You can shape it how you want.

Q. What materials do you use?

A. I believe you should use materials available to you. In New York, I like mulberry the best. I planted six mulberry trees and cut them every two years and used the branches. When I got here, I wasn't familiar with the vegetation. I noticed one time during a moon tide this sea grass, or spartina, all over the place. I took two trash bags home and started to experiment with it. It's not the best because it's kind of weak. So I added a little cotton to it. But the paper is mostly sea grass.

With Mira, she does a lot of paintings that relate to the Lowcountry. I made paper with a lot of cotton and spartina. I feel like the paper should speak to the art. All these Lowcountry visions should be on a paper made with sea grass.

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Mary C. Leto

Picture This Gallery Dieu Donne

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