As you might know, I am an artist. Since moving to Arkansas, I’ve been working to connect my gardens to my art. Both in the subject matter and in the materials and processes. At Wildland Gardens I grow the cotton I use for my paper. You can see my artworks at www.cowpersmith.com
I grow Nankeen Cotton, an heirloom variety with soft golden-brown medium length fibers. My cotton is grown without chemical additives and is interplanted with the bright zinnia flowers that frequently make appearances in the prints. After being picked in late fall, I hand pluck the seeds from the bolls. The cotton is cut and boiled with baking soda before being blended into a pulp. The pulp is strengthened by adding a small amount of recycled cotton paper and sizing. The pulp is thinned with water in a huge sink and I make the paper using a hand-made mold (deckle). Each sheet of paper is intentionally unique.
Cotton is one of the most important crops in the history of Arkansas. Not only does cotton represent slavery, plantations, and Arkansas’s civil war history, it also epitomizes industrial agriculture. Over the past 100 years it has been grown in increasingly large plots of land, it is bombarded with chemical additives and has been engineered to meet the requirements of mechanical harvesting. By growing it on a small scale, to make art about farms, nature, and domestic objects, I am forming a new (and return to an older era) relationship to this plant and it’s products.
Brown Nankeen Cotton growing with Zinnias in the garden
Boiling the cotton with baking soda
Layers of felt and cotton paper