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Tim Barrett Collection

Identifier: MsC0937

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Scope and Contents

This collection contains materials from paper specialist Tim Barrett and includes paper samples, correspondence, research notes, and supplemental materials related to Tim's career and papermaking more generally. This collection was curated and organized by Tim Barrett. It reflects important periods in his career from its beginning through his tenure at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.


  • Creation: 1968-2020


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Beginnings, 1964-1968 I enjoyed working with my hands and building or making things when I was young. I grew up in Kalamazoo, MI which was a full-fledged papermaking town in the 50s and 60s. I remember visiting a papermill as a child, having been taken there by my (college English professor) father who felt it would be of interest to me. Later, as a young teenager, when I asked him how they made paper before the invention of the paper machine, he knew something of the history of books and was able to describe the flat sieve-like “mould” used to form sheets one at a time. I was intrigued. Local mills later gave me pieces of retired machine felts, forming fabric, and articles (from The Papermaker by Henry Morris), all of which helped feed my growing interest. When I was a boarding school student at Cranbrook School for Boys in Bloomfield Hills, MI between 1964 and 1968 I encountered books by Dard Hunter for the first time in the Cranbrook Art Academy library. Hunter’s books were a revelation to me because his work showed me that my curiosity about the history and technique of papermaking was not weird, but was, on the contrary, a path that was deep, wide, and filled with many possibilities for continued exploration.

Antioch College, 1968-1973 At Antioch I managed to set up a small papermaking area with several hundred dollars from student government. However, no one was teaching papermaking and no one else seemed interested in pursuing it. I wrote Miami University’s Department of Paper Science and asked about the availability of any unused small beaters. Then Department Chair Ed Brandon offered me a retired out of use small laboratory beater which I very gratefully collected, but I lacked the funds, time and expertise to refurbish it and put it into operation. It was discarded during an Antioch art department sculpture yard clean-up effort when I was away on a cooperative education job. I am still embarrassed by the fact I let it slip away. Nevertheless, I built my first moulds at this time and succeeded in making my first sheets of paper from cotton linter fiber broken up with a paint mixer in a garbage bucket of water. This unbeaten pulp I blended with colored threads, thistle, and other fibers. The resulting paper was soft and not satisfying, but it was a start. During this time another paper company loaned me small lab beater but because it was an antique showpiece, and the prolonged closure of many buildings due to a campus wide student strike, my contact at the company requested the beater back before I was able to put it into operation. Another disappointment because I realized, even then, that I would not really be making progress without first acquiring a beater.

Twinrocker, 1973-1975 After graduating from Antioch College in 1973 I joined Kathy and Howie Clark at their Twinrocker Handmade Paper business located in Brookston, Indiana. They had been operational in San Francisco for a year or two but were otherwise just getting started. Katherine Kidde had already arrived as their first assistant, and I joined them as the second. Kathryn was an accomplished master fine art printmaker and Howard was a talented and gifted engineer, but we were all learning papermaking together, essentially from scratch. Twinrocker was, nevertheless, a rich and valuable learning experience that became a crucial reference point in my career. It provided me with the context to realize I needed experience working with traditional craftspeople who had grown up in the craft, if I was going to acquire the expertise and sensitivities I sought in hand papermaking. That yearning led to the Fulbright fellowship experience in Japan, 1975-1977. I also began to appreciate the fact I needed a technical background in papermaking and that realization led later to my taking classes part time at Western Michigan University’s School of Paper Science and Engineering (WMU) in the midst of establishing Kalamazoo Handmade Papers, 1978-1985.

Japan, 1975-1977 My interest in going to Japan grew out of my fascination with the warm, natural look and feel of some Japanese papers I had encountered; my desire to spend time learning from traditional papermakers; and, from the realization there was no accurate description published in English regarding the intricacies of the Japanese craft. There was nothing available about how the process worked; how to do it. Dard Hunter’s inspiring publications, I was beginning to realize, lacked these kinds of practical how-to details. On top of these various motivations, it was a mystery how the Japanese were able to beat their fiber by hand; make such thin, long fibered delicate sheets; stack their wet sheets one on top of the next; press the stack to expel the excess water, and then part them successfully one sheet at a time while still damp! Actually going to Japan to learn about all of this under a Fulbright fellowship was like entering Ali Baba’s cavern for me. Every day was a revelation and I always felt very lucky and honored to be there. The Japanese artisans were very generous with their time and expertise. This was likely due to a growing awareness the craft was declining in Japan; young people were, by in large, disinclined to acquire the necessary skills. I also expect my interest, enthusiasm, basic Japanese language skills, and past European style papermaking experience must have made me, somehow, a visitor worth hosting, even for just an hour or two. I always arrived with paper samples I’d made, and photographs of me making paper which helped get past my weak Japanese language skills. I have always wondered if the end of WW II, just 30 years before my arrival, may also have led to an undercurrent desire to rebuild the Japanese people’s relationship with Americans. Regardless, it was an eye-opening and career changing experience. During one particularly important conversation, one of my mentors, Katsu Tadahiko, helped me realize I had the potential to play a role in preserving the craft; that I could help ensure its future integrity. The idea that I might make such a contribution had never occurred to me before. By the time I left Japan I had decided that it was not just Japanese papermaking but also European hand papermaking history and technique that interested me. I felt certain that, one way or another, I wanted to continue learning about and practicing both crafts. Because I was able to get the Fulbright renewed, I was able to stay in Japan for a full two years. When I returned home, I brought with me two Japanese style moulds (one large at 60 by 90 cm, one small at 31 by 42 cm), and a few kilos each of kozo, mitsumata and gampi fiber. In addition, I had a relatively new Minolta camera with three lenses, a wide selection of paper specimens, and a collection of artifacts on or of paper such as books, lanterns, and shifu (textiles made with paper threads). But I had almost no money, and no coherent idea of what I was going to do next to make a living.

Kalamazoo Handmade Papers, 1978-1985 Following my return from Japan in the fall of 1977, after getting settled in at my parent’s farmhouse home, I began working in their barn where I set about making a small vat and a sheet stainless steel dryer heated by heat lamps. The next step was to see if I could, indeed, make nagashizuki Japanese-style paper in America. Somewhat to my surprise, I succeeded, and used those first sheets made of Nepalese “gampi” fiber for flyers advertising a national lecture tour (printed by Henry Morris). Concurrently I made all the other foldable equipment I needed to demonstrate Japanese-style papermaking, leased a windowless Dodge van, and outfitted it with a platform to sleep on and spaces underneath to stow all the equipment. For three months I traveled the USA and a bit into Canada, conducting workshops and giving lectures at 30 locations. When I returned, I had about $12,000 remaining after expenses. I used the money to begin renovating space in the barn for a papermaking workshop and some basic living quarters.

I started taking classes in paper science and paper testing at Western Michigan University’s School of Paper Science and Engineering, finished writing Nagashizuki- The Japanese Craft of Papermaking (published by Henry Morris at the Bird and Bull Press in 1979), received a $5000 (?) grant from the NEA to write an instruction manual for Japanese-style papermaking, began producing small sheets of Japanese-style kozo mending paper for sale to conservators, and, having quickly exhausted the profit from the first lecture tour, began planning a second. I came back from the second lecture/workshop tour mentally exhausted, and realized I had to slow down a bit and be more careful not to try to accomplish too much in a given period of time. The barn workshop and living quarters were coming together. I helped start the first Paper and Book Intensive summer conferences at the Ox-bow School of Art, and began making European style sheets and 60 by 90 cm. (24 by 36 inch) Japanese-style sheets. (The latter, and 22 by 30-inch European style sheets, required building a larger vat and a hydraulic press). I had only a Valley beater (capacity 350 grams of dry fiber) to work with for making European style papers but I was able to produce successful prototype sheets for paper cased bindings, and some fair quality book papers. Paper sales were happening but sporadically, generating no steady income. I wrote and Weatherhill published my second book, Japanese Papermaking- Traditions, Tools, and Techniques in 1983. Advances from the publisher and subsequent royalties helped with cash flow, but not a lot. The entire enterprise was chaotic, challenging, and frustrating but, here and there, also very rewarding. By the early 1980s the wolf was constantly at the door. Luckily, unbeknownst to me, Kim Merker was aware of my growing expertise and fundraising/publishing record. He was in the midst of trying to establish a Center for the Book at the University of Iowa. About 1984 he began inquiring regarding my interest in applying for a position in papermaking at the UI, if such a position could be created.

University of Iowa Center for the Book, 1986-2020 A position for a paper specialist was created thanks to Kim Merker’s diligent efforts and the help he received from various colleagues including Maso Tomasini, Chair of the School of Art and Art History, and Keith Achepohl, head of printmaking. Also, key were a number of administrators: D. C. Spriestersbach, Dean of the Grad College and VP for Research; Jerry Lowenberg, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and Richard Remington VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties. I did not realize it at the time but Kim and his collaborators had a rather heavy lift convincing all concerned that a mid-career specialist in the history and technique of hand papermaking, without a terminal degree in a related field, should have a place at a major research university and be trusted with teaching graduate students. But my research, publication, lecturing, and external fundraising record must have had some weight because I applied for the position, it was awarded to me, and I started part time in the fall of 1985 and went to full time in January of 1986.

Regarding this passage in my career, I have always said, “I hit the ground running and I have never looked back.” I was 36 years old and this was the first time in my life I’d had a real job, with a salary and benefits. I did everything I could to make the most of the opportunity I’d been given, and I pushed ahead doing whatever I could to build the papermaking program, and other aspects of the UI Center for the Book. The teaching facility in the basement of the Old Art Building had been established in the very early 1980s by Greg Knoll, a recent MFA graduate of the School of Art and Art History printmaking program. Kim helped Greg outfit the facility and Greg did an excellent job getting classroom established. I brought Japanese-style papermaking to the curriculum and enhanced the European-style papermaking coursework. In addition, I established a research and production papermaking facility on the UI Oakdale campus where graduate students, occasionally a staff person (notably Lynn Amlie), and I made both types of paper for use primarily in the care and conservation of books and works of art on paper. Making the paper for the new Charters of Freedom encasements at the National Archives Rotunda in Washington DC was probably the most important of our various production projects.

I also carried on research investigating the impressive quality, permanence and character of 15th C European papers. Because I did not have a terminal degree in my specialty, nor an MFA in Art, I was not made a member of the School of Art and Art History faculty. Instead, I started as an associate research scientist; a staff position. This was fine with me because my interest in conservation paper production and technical research on historical papers did not constitute art making or the study of art history.

But the dilemma regarding where to put me within the institution leads to Kim’s vision for the UI Center for the Book. He wanted it to be a home for specialists in the various book arts and technologies, as well as scholars interested in the impact of the book on society and culture; past, present and future. The Center was formally established in 1986, and one can argue that 35 years later in 2021, we are still looking for a proper place within the academic structure of the University of Iowa. My guess is it will not happen until the book arts (artist book production, and the technique and related aesthetics of bookbinding, calligraphy, fine press printing, and papermaking) and book studies (history of the book, critical bibliography, books and paper as foci in cultural studies, etc.) become accepted as new fields of creative and scholarly work within the academy. We may not be there yet, but in the 35 years I have been at the UI, the Center has proven its value and vitality as a creative and intellectual glue and catalyst. We have had this impact across disciplines through our engagement with graduate students and faculty colleagues in studio art, English, history and the School of Library and Information Science, and with staff colleagues in the UI Libraries Special Collections and Preservation and Conservation departments.

Items in the Barrett Archive collection associated with the UICB era of my career include paper specimens, research records, publications, and correspondence focused primarily on my paper production, research and teaching efforts. There is some additional information associated with the evolution of the Center for the Book, but KK Merker and Center for the Book archives here in Special Collections are likely to be more valuable for an exploration of UICB history.


9.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Related Materials

Additional materials related to papermaking and Tim Barrett's career can be found on the Iowa Digital Library. Click here for digital materials.

For more information on paper analysis, please visit Paper Through Time

In Progress
Tim Barrett and Jenna Silver, 2022.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)