Tom Leech, a former Business of Art Center studio artist, and Holly Parker, the BAC's curator, had been talking since 2006 about his bringing a show to the gallery. Two experiences finally convinced him the time had come.
As a master marbler, papermaker and printer, Leech talks daily with visitors in his museum shop at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M. When a couple inquired about some marbled papers on display, Leech recalls, "I was telling them some background and said, 'This art form came from the Middle East.' And the woman said, 'Stop! I don't want to hear any more.' And she
essentially walked out."
Though he's worked in the field for 30 years, he had never encountered such a reaction to the art form, which involves floating paints on a liquid, swirling them into designs and making a contact print.
Shortly after that, Leech traveled to Turkey where marbling, called ebru or "cloud painting," arose in the 15th century. While there, anti-American demonstrations and violence made headlines.
"I had friends asking, 'Are you OK? Are you safe?'" The worry caught Leech by surprise.
"I couldn't have been having a nicer experience," he remembers. "When we met people, they were friendly. They'd feed us and invite us into their homes and their studios ... "
This discrepancy led to the idea for Album Amcorum: Gems of Friendship in a Frightened World. The title refers to "friendship books," some 600 years old, which served as ancient autograph albums with beautiful papers, artwork and writings collected from friends.
Leech wondered if he could create an exhibit using the books as a metaphor, with a 21st century twist. So he e-mailed a friend asking him to send a hand-marbled work for the exhibit. Then Leech asked his friend to pass the invitation on to another friend, with the stipulation that it cross an international border each time it was forwarded.
The result is a show of 21 hand-marbled and decorative papers by some of the most recognized paper artists around the world. The exhibit includes traditional patterns that have been repeated for centuries, as well as pieces that push the art form's boundaries.
Similar to the act of marbling itself, Leech and Parker point out, curating a show this way embraced an element of chance. For example, in Germany the term "marbled paper" was translated as "fancy paper," so a handful of the papers submitted use other techniques including paste paper and tissue-paper prints.
"Part of the adventure was that this hasn't been done before," says Parker. "So there's no formula to it. The idea of the show is just as important as the outcome."
Leech, who would like to see the show travel to each of the countries represented someday, hopes visitors will appreciate the vision. "I'd like people to come away with the message that the world isn't such a scary place," he says, "and that we all have a lot in common."
Album Amcorum: Gems of Friendship in a Frightened World
Business of Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Exhibit runs Jan. 18 through March 1; reception Friday, Jan. 18, 5-8 p.m.; gallery talk Saturday, Jan. 19, 1-1:30 p.m.; demonstration, 1:30-3:30 p.m.; paper marbling workshop, Saturday, Feb. 23, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets: Exhibit, talk and demo free; workshop $160/members, $180/non-members; call 685-1861 or visit thebac.org for more.