October 7, 2015

Five Fun Facts about Paper

Did you know that the first paper mill in America was established by William Rittenhouse near Germantown, PA in 1690? Or that paper doesn’t just come from trees – it can be made from any fibrous material including linen, cotton, bagasse, straw, cornstalks, hemp, bamboo, and the list goes on and on (Rittenhouse originally used flax and rags).

This fall we’re offering two adult classes that focus on paper as both medium and artform: check out Sketchbook DC and Creative Collage and Paper Art. To get you excited for all that paper has to offer, we’ve scoured the internet for five fun facts about paper!

1. You might be surprised to learn that the first paper was made from recycled materials. While paper is used worldwide today, the Chinese kept it a secret for hundreds of years after its invention in 105 A.D. At the time scrolls of silk were used for books, which wasn’t very economical. So, an official from the royal Chinese court figured out a way to make paper from old rags and fishing nets.

Origami frog
Origami frog

2. The art of folding paper, Origami, was invented in Japan in the 6th Century but strictly reserved for ceremonial purposes. It was more than 1000 years later in the 17th Century that Origami began to be done for entertainment, which quickly spread in popularity to the rest of the world.


The pastel and charcoal reveal the tooth of this paper
The pastel and charcoal reveal the tooth of this paper

3. Paper has teeth! Or to be more accurate, tooth. The tooth of a paper is the surface feel, how rough or smooth it is. This affects how certain media looks on the paper, and how an artist might use paper or choose paper. Paper processing and production determines tooth.

4. Paper also has a weight. The weight helps an artist determine how much manipulation it can take. Heavier weight paper can take more wet media like watercolor or acrylic, whereas lighter paper (like newsprint) won’t hold up to a lot of heavy mark-making and erasing, but is great for sketching.

5. Paper isn’t just a vehicle for charcoal, ink, or watercolor, it can also be the art. Contemporary artist Yulia Brodskaya‘s work can be seen around the world with clients such as Target, Sephora, and the New York Times! Using a centuries-old technique called quilling, she creates intricate designs and swirling shapes of colors through her all-paper pictures to create dazzling advertisements around the world.

Bonus Fact! (Not really a fact, but an interesting observation)

Paper is a part of our lives that we might not think much about, but for artists and art lovers it’s not only a medium with immeasurable variety, but it can also be source of fascination and frustration. Our resident artists have been challenging how we look at paper through their exhibition Yes, and, on view in the Upper Level gallery until Oct. 11.

Paper is the vehicle of literature and art, because it is, first and foremost, a product. The duality of paper as both a commodity for commercial use and a backdrop and medium for expressive works of art are the focus of two artworks currently on display at AAC by resident artists. Austin Shull’s Arches, The Artists Choice Since 1492 explores the complex relationship the contemporary artist has with the paper industry by working without ink to highlight the “obscure relations between labor, modes of production, and commodities.” Ironically, right next to Austin’s piece criticizing the mass usage of paper is a piece by artist Pam Rogers which uses Arches paper as the backdrop for her work.

Austin Shull, Field Guide to Materiality: Arches, The Artists Choice Since 1492 (detail). 2007.
Austin Shull, Field Guide to Materiality: Arches, The Artists Choice Since 1492 (detail). 2007.

Stop by AAC through October 11th to check out the works in Yes, and! If you’re ready to make your own paper art, take a look at our Creative Collage & Paper Art adult class on our website to see how you can craft your own paper masterpiece! Or if you prefer to take your paper on the go, check out the Sketchbook DC class for adults.

Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics

UPCOMING: Opens June 15, 2024

Curated by Al Miner

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington is proud to present Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics, an exhibition celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Summer Camp Registration

June 17 – August 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington offers a wonderful and wide range of creative summer camps for your creative students! Camps are offered for kids starting at age 5 and up to teens ages 18.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.