The Mill Paper and Book Arts Center in Rhinelander takes its name from the long-standing paper milling industry of Northern Wisconsin. Established in June of 2012 by artists Daniel Goscha and Debra Jircik, the Mill is a creative space hosted at their respective studios that offers a wide range of engaging workshops, from basic print and paper making to “kitchen lithography” (using simple household items such as aluminum foil and soda to create homemade prints) to advanced letterpress and book design courses.
After moving to Northern Wisconsin in 2008 to teach graphic design at Nicolet College, Goscha quickly realized how very few printmaking resources were in the region. In 2009 he started Red Kite Press, a lonely but hopeful print studio in his garage where he could work on printmaking and letterpress projects.
Using an antique Vandercook Letterpress, as well as a Chandler & Price Etching Press acquired from an artist in Green Bay, he began to churn out letterpress art and hand-printed broadsides by Wisconsin poets like Tom Montag. While the studio was adequate for his own needs, Goscha dreamt of a place where the traditional arts of printmaking, papermaking, and bookmaking could be explored and shared with a larger audience through application and education.
Meanwhile at Circle of Life Studio across town, papermaker and clay artist Debra Jircik was beginning work on Tree Whispers, an international project examining personal connections with nature through handmade paper. The two artists met and decided to collaborate on the Tree Whispers project, which turned out so well that the two extended their printmaking and papermaking collaboration to form the Mill Paper and Book Arts Center.
While they are searching for a permanent location for the center, Goscha and Jircik run the Mill out of their respective studios. It may seem strange to have a center with no physical space, but their passion for print- and papermaking—as well as a shared philosophy about the importance of the arts in rural areas—holds the project together.
“We are invested with how the creative economy can become a partner in economic growth and recovery,” says Goscha, noting that the arts can help mitigate many of the problems small towns face, from beautifying underutilized main streets to preventing the “brain drain” that happens when talented people move to the cities.
Even as they search for a new space, Mill classes are filling up with eager participants. With the help of a Valley Beater (donated by Wausau Paper) that converts recycled paper and other materials into pulp, the Mill Paper and Book Arts Center held its first class, “Harvest Paper Making,” in September at Circle of Life Studio. And Wisconsin artist Sarah Esgro completed the Mill’s first artist in residency this past summer, working with Goscha and Jircik on a series of collage-based books about Civil War battlefields.
In addition to teaching and encouraging the preservation of tradi- tional arts, Goscha and Jircik (who lead the majority of the workshops) teach environmental sustainability by showing students how to create their own paper from locally sourced trees and garden plants. Working with the Rhinelander Parks System, Goscha and Jircik are also contributing to the fight against invasive weeds by taking classes to collect Mustard Garlic, which they make into paper. Add to this an application of recycled soy-based ink alongside unique book binding and stitching techniques, and students can create a one-of-a-kind handmade book that reflects the unique collaborative environment found at the Mill Paper and Book Arts Center.
Visit themillbookarts.org for more information on workshops and classes.