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Cindy Iverson, 43, makes mixed-media collages and artist books, exquisitely crafted ruminations about anxiety, historical injustices and the secrets people keep. But first, Iverson makes her own paper. She collects everything from dead saguaros to old blue jeans, boils it, pulps it, and transforms it into paper, one sheet at a time. Iverson wasn't always a papermaker and an artist; four years ago, at the age of 39, she ditched a corporate career and got an MFA. Her work will be on display this month at eye lounge in Phoenix. Iverson does her plant boiling and art-making at the Paper Studio, her retail store/studio/teaching space in a periodontistry office building in Tempe.
Why she makes paper when you can buy the stuff by the ream at Office Max: I would get frustrated looking for paper, the exact paper I would dream up in my head and I couldn't find. So I started making paper, and it was like, "Aha, I have control over the process." There's a spiritual side, too. When you stop and make paper, it slows you down. Making paper is kind of like a Zen activity. It's very repetitious. It's kind of quiet. It's wet. It's Zen.
Why there are dead plants arranged purposefully on the patio behind her studio: I'm working with a graduate student at ASU, and she's doing a lot of exploration into desert fiber. So right now, I'm rending -- or rotting -- two different kinds of palms, a queen palm and a fan palm. We've got a cholla out there, a saguaro. At home, on the side of our house, I have prickly pear and agave, rotting. I'm sure the neighbors love me.
Tales from the plant-collecting front: A saguaro fell down in our neighborhood, and I couldn't wait to run over there and say, "What are you going to do with that saguaro?" You're constantly looking. I'm about to make paper from palm fronds, and I got all of them from some landscapers who were trimming trees at the post office. I saw the leaves, and I pulled up in my car and I ran up to the landscapers and I asked them if I could have the palm fronds. I was in a dress, so they all thought I was crazy. I keep leather gloves and garbage bags in the car because you find stuff to make paper with when you least expect it.
The strangest thing she has ever turned into paper: Right now, a woman is having me re-pulp her wedding dress. It's from the '70s, and gauze. Most wedding dresses are not 100 percent cotton or linen. I'm re-pulping it for her daughter's wedding invitations. Making paper out of clothes is not unusual; in the 1800s, they totally used clothes [to make paper], but that's kind of a strange project.
Clone this guy: For one piece [of artwork] I was making, I needed cigarette butts. I had to watch my pulp, so I sent my husband to get the stuff. I told him to go to Fry's and scoop up some butts out of the receptacle at the door. He did it when the security guard wasn't looking because he felt silly.
Why her new work is about secrets: I worked in human resources for a long time, and people would tell you secrets. I didn't want to know their secrets, because when people tell you their secrets, you're involved. You have to keep it or tell it. It creates all these entanglements. I started thinking and writing about all the secrets I had to keep over the years for my friends and my brother, who said he was a vegetarian but ate meat on the sly. You can almost see secrets in people. I included some of mine as well. I wanted to make paper that had the secrets embedded in it. You might not notice it initially, but you can see it when you take a closer look.
Scrapbooking, the gateway craft: I get scrapbookers in my bookbinding classes, occasionally, who want to go to the next level. You'd be surprised how many people start in scrapbooking and then they want to make their own book, because they can't find the perfect book. They actually develop very good hand skills with scrapbooking, so they tend to be able to learn bookbinding as well. People start with whatever is nearby, or whatever someone introduces them to, so scrapbooking can lead to bigger things.