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Valley of the Sunflower Papermaking Project Combines Sustainability and Local Art

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A year ago you might have noticed a pop of color in downtown Phoenix near Roosevelt Row. The infusion of golden yellow came from the transformation of a vacant, two-acre lot into The Valley of the Sunflowers, a community supported partnership meant to beautify, educate and support sustainability.

After the first harvest, an offshoot project emerged when three papermaking artists got their hands on the leftover sunflower stalks. The resulting Valley of the Sunflowers Paper Project looks to carry on the theme of sustainability while also involving local artists in an installation at Combine Studios in January.

See also: - A Lot of Sunflowers (in Downtown Phoenix) - GOOD 'N PLENTY: SMoCA's Community-Funded Artist Grant and Local Art Celebration Returns for Round Two in December

The idea for the project came from Dana LeMoine and Rachel Nore, both graduate students in printmaking at Arizona State University, and Kerri Harding, recently an employee of Hayden Library working in bookbinding and conservation. The trio saw an opportunity to combine the art of papermaking with sustainability and local art and began to explore the idea of using sunflower stalks to make high-quality paper.

To fund the project, they setup a Kickstarter campaign that reached its $600 goal with more than a week and half left to their final deadline. The funds will go toward the cost of making additional paper, installation supplies and promotion materials for the exhibition. Additionally, the trio will create a spiral bound recipe book with information about how to make paper from sunflower stalks.

"There isn't a lot of information on the internet or in books about how to make sunflower paper," Nore explains. "We tried to treat it like some of the other plants we'd worked with before."

But sunflowers turned out to be a pretty a unique plant and according to Nore, it took about eight months of experimentation to perfect the papermaking process. Because of the extreme toughness of the stalks, the plants were left to ret in water and milk outside for two months in July and August. The cooking and beating processes each take an additional day, while making 40 sheets of paper can take another full day of work. In October, the trio presented their work in Cleveland, Ohio at the Watermarks 2012 papermaking conference.

"It's a physical process," Nore says. " And it's hard on the body."

To carry out the theme of sustainability, the team decided to give the paper to 22 local artists to use in a sustainability themed exhibition. The works will be exhibited at Combine Studios in downtown Phoenix from January 18 to February 10.

"It was really important to us to get a place close enough for people to make the connection [with the Valley of the Sunflowers]," Nore says. "We wanted to get the same community members involved."

For more information or to donate to the project, visit the Valley of the Sunflowers Kickstarter page.

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