Women's Studio Workshop

Women's Studio Workshop

The Women’s Studio Workshop is located in Rosendale, NY and maintains facilities for etching, letterpress, papermaking, book arts, silkscreen, 3D work, ceramics, and photography. In this interview, Studio Manager Chris Petrone discusses the studio’s Art Farm, how it has influenced WSW’s educational programs, and the importance of sourcing your own materials.

Missy Graff Ballone: Can you please tell me a little bit about Women’s Studio Workshop? How did it come to be?


Chris Petrone: Women's Studio Workshop is a nonprofit artists’ workspace that offers opportunities in printmaking, letterpress, papermaking, ceramics, book arts, and photography. It was founded in 1974 by four women who wanted to support women in the arts, educate, engage the community with their mission, and offer a non-competitive workspace for people to work freely and collaborate.

The organization has shifted and grown its programming over the last 42 years, but has held true to the original mission. All of the grants we receive and offer as residencies are solely for women artists. One of our newest residency opportunities is for mothers, and we will be hosting our second resident (and her daughter) this fall.

Please tell me about the ArtFarm.


Chris Petrone: The ArtFarm project started in 1990 as an experiment in art and sustainability, centered on producing material for hand papermaking. The project has since become integral to all of our programs and as a result, we have tested over 100 plants and provided residencies for artists and workshops for students of all ages.

WSW has been making paper since 1979, mostly doing production papermaking. Originally, the papermaking studio lived in the attic of our first building--a rented single family home located in the town of Rosendale--which always makes me laugh. In 1990, the studio shifted its focus from paper production to residency programming and today WSW offers papermaking facilities to artists working both two- and three-dimensionally.

The land used to experiment growing fibers has moved around over the years. We started by weeding invasives at Philies Birdge Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Gardiner, NY. The space we work on today is right in our backyard, about 8,599 square feet. Currently we have nine fibers and three different dye plants.

Are any of the plants in the ArtFarm native to the Hudson Valley?


Chris Petrone: Cattail and Milkweed make really nice paper. The plants we grow for their fiber content have mostly been introduced to this area: kenaf, flax, rye, iris, and yucca have be our favorites so far. We do, however, continue to experiment and hope we’ll keep adding to this list.

Many of the plants we’ve tried are not ideal for paper or are too labor intensive to produce a substantial amount of fiber for pulling sheets. When we find ourselves with these kind of plants, we have to combine them with stronger fibers like cotton or flax. For example, peony, sedge, and sumac all have great qualities aesthetically, but are difficult to process, especially given their small yield.

Another focus for us is learning about and working with invasives in our area. Knotweed, for instance, has taken over our road in the last 10 years. It’s one of the more tedious plants to process for the beater, but if done in its younger state it is more manageable and makes a great paper.

What is the importance of sourcing one’s own materials?


Chris Petrone: It’s important to be mindful of how we impact the environment by the choices we make. It's also crucial to know what’s available right in our backyard; learning what is doable and thrives here in the Hudson Valley and what doesn't. I try to remember that forcing plants to grow in unsuitable conditions is just not worth the effort. It makes a lot more sense to use resources that grow easily and naturally.

I’ve also become increasingly aware of what it takes to get outsourced materials into our studio, like the intangible costs of unsustainable harvesting practices, and the very real costs of packaging, shipping, etc. Shipping and paper prices have been nipping us in the bud, and I have to be very aware of what I'm spending for programming and materials.

How has the ArtFarm influenced Women’s Studio Workshop’s educational programs?


Chris Petrone: In short: tremendously. Many of the people who come through our educational programs are learning processes from different cultures, learning to resource and use what's around them, and becoming aware of the non-traditional possibilities in papermaking. We just ended one of our Summer Art Institute workshops, Islamic Papermaking, with Radha Pandey. Participants were learning about natural dyes, sizing with egg and wheat starch, and using hemp, cotton, and flax fibers for paper.

The students who come in through Art-in-Education not only learn about how paper is made, but also how the industry has changed and impacted the environment. For many years now, we have worked closely with students from the Kingston City School District and it never gets old watching someone make their first sheet of paper, especially a young person who has no hesitation or self-consciousness. One group that comes every fall is a high school Chemistry and Art class co-taught by art teacher Lara Giordano. These students study the plants’ make-up; learn what goes into cooking and beating the fibers; and finally get to pull their own sheets of paper.

Our educational programming has given back to the studio as well. We have artists from many different walks of life come through to teach or participate in residency opportunities that are designed for skill sharing. Art-in-Ed students, school teachers, staff, and interns get to learn from them, which is always really exciting.

Do you know of any other studio spaces that offer similar resources?


Chris Petrone: We are continuously learning of new people and studios who are growing their own fibers for papermaking and dye. A few examples include Tim Barrett at the University of Iowa, the Morgan Conservatory in Ohio, Porridge Papers in Nebraska, and Rowland Ricketts in Indiana. Each of them are growing their own fibers or sourcing locally.

There is such a large community of papermakers and I want to list every one that comes to mind. The Hand Papermaking quarterly is a great resource that keeps many papermakers connected through discussions, workshops, conferences, and articles.

In your opinion, what makes Women’s Studio Workshop a ‘Mindful Space’?


Chris Petrone: We focus on respecting everyone that walks through the door, offering support, encouragement, and the opportunity to work and create freely. Once here, artists have concentrated time and space to work on whatever they want, which can be hard to come by in busy, everyday lives.

We’re also in the midst of an expansion project that will double our space and our capacity to house artists. In all of our building processes and in thinking about what the future facility will need and use, we’re keeping a focus on sustainability. As far as the new building is concerned, we’re going to bring it as close to net zero as possible. We’re also working towards curating art-making materials that are safe for everyone that comes through the studios.

How do you envision the future of Women’s Studio Workshop and the ArtFarm?


Chris Petrone: We are currently working towards expanding our space, programming, and staff. With the new building on the horizon, we’re also working to create deeper connections with our local community. WSW has always done public arts programming. One of our new residencies gives artists the opportunity to create sculptural, installation, or performance art for the mile of Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that runs directly in front of the studio. In conjunction with all our residencies, artists would present their work at Dinners and Dialogues, a new program that will partner with local farms and businesses to provide free meals and interesting discussion. In the long run, we hope that this will also involve the ArtFarm.

What’s important to us is making art more accessible, building relationships with our local farmers and environmentalists, and creating a space to discuss a whole range of topics, from research to artwork and beyond. These kinds of connections are vital for a thriving community. For instance, we recently harvested a cover crop of rye from Arrowmont Farms in Accord, NY. Thanks to them, the full crop was used for a fall season of Art-in-Ed with AP Studio Art students from Kingston High School. We’d love to take it one step further in the future and have the students harvest and process it on site, so that they can really see the process from beginning to end. It’s amazing to be able to create intersections like these and connect so many different aspects of our community through the process of papermaking.