Inside the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum

Photos by Tom Hightower, Student Publications

Very few people pay attention to the quiet companion of our lives: the bits and pieces of paper that come and go, from notes to cardboard boxes or even the page this is printed on. Although treated like an afterthought, the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking (RCWMP) shines a light on exactly how important an afterthought can be.

To better explore the world of paper we live in and its presence here at Tech, the Technique sat down with the museum director at the RCWMP Virginia Howell.

“Museums are really interesting places to work. We deal with a lot of unusual materials and processes. So, this is a great opportunity for students to say, ‘Hey, I’m really interested in this subject area or this method of doing something and I want to learn more about it,’” said Howell.

Howell noted that it is not just students who are coming into the museum to learn more about paper.

“The museum has three unique audiences. We have our Georgia Tech audience who may or may not be interested in paper, which is fine; we will convert you,” Howell laughed. “Then, we have our local audience which is primarily made up of school groups, home school groups and some individuals who want to visit a museum. Our third audience is paper fans. So, people who are into paper.”

To accommodate each of these groups in a unique way, the museum leads specialized tours and hands-on papermaking experiences for school groups on field trips to higher level workshops that teach book binding and bookmaking to older audiences. For the Tech community, the museum offers specific workshops catered to the needs of students and faculty, often developing a special program for professors to align with course projects.

2nd-year ENVE Zion Martell visited the museum for her first time with her English 1102 class to learn how to make a children’s book.

“It was a nice break from the traditional ‘this is what’s been researched and this is what you should do,’ versus ‘these are all your materials and this is what you can do,’” Martell said. “It was very open and I thought it was cool to be able to do it and not just hear about it.”

Third-year CM Tori Kraj visited the museum to participate in the workshops geared towards the Fast Film Festival, which is a stop motion film contest run by the museum. The contest has only one rule: the animation must be constructed from paper.

Participants, either in a group or as an individual, have one week to create a short film that will be screened at the end of the week, when the winners will be presented with their prizes.

“The workshop allowed the community hands on guidance to stop motion animation. It allowed me to make a cute 15 second animation in under 10 minutes,” Kraj said. “I even used the tools I learned for a final video project in my EAS 1600 class.”

Despite the various opportunities for students to experience all the museum has to offer as well as its free admittance, it can be difficult to overcome the notion that museums are not places that are meant to be explored.

“I see students that walk in before their classes in the building and sometimes there’s a look of ‘What’s this space? I’m not allowed in there,’” Howell said. “Yes, you are allowed, and we want you to come into the museum. This is your museum on campus, so utilize it.”

“I don’t expect our students to come out and be papermakers for the rest of their lives, although that would be fantastic,” Howell continued.

“But I do want students to come out of their experience with us, knowing that if there is something that they are passionate about they can follow that, and it doesn’t have to be a career, but having something that you want to keep learning about gives meaning to our lives.”

In addition to its workshops, the museum is currently displaying “Cut and Paste: Works of Paper,” an exhibit which showcases art from 11 different Georgia artists. The exhibit will run until Nov. 14.