Our Place in the History of Marbling

Some people might ask, why start a group devoted to marbling. There are two main reasons. First, because a group of marblers wanted to do it. They felt the power of a community of marblers: to learn from each other and to be inspired by each other. Second, they wanted to work to assure that marbling grows and evolves into a stronger art form in the 21st century. When you look at the recent history of marbling you can see why that is a concern.

Marbling became popular in the West in the 18th and 19th century when it was widely used in publishing. Book publishers used marbled papers for endpapers, book covers, and book block edges. The pressures of publishing put marbling under time restrictions and the materials that were used in that time period also presented challenges to the artisans who were doing the marbling. The assessment of marbling in that period by Mindell Dubansky in her new book, Pattern and Flow (Metropolitan Museum of Art: 2022) was that it had, “no sense of artistry or advanced skill is(sic) evident in their output. In fact, marbling from this period exhibits standard, unremarkable patterns”. (p.29)

Publishing had made marbling popular or at least recognizable, but publishing moved on when printing presses began to print with multiple colors and books became more ordinary instead of valued for their uniqueness. Hand-made marbling was no longer used — it was still part of the book arts but different enough from the process of printing that it was not really embraced in that arena.

Dubinsky goes on to write a history of U.S. marblers who were most active between the 1960s and 2000. These are the artists whose books and expertise marblers learn from today— Diane Maurer-Mathison, Patty and Mimi Schleicher, Regina and Dan St. John, and many others. Dubinsky who is Museum Librarian for Preservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has built a collection of their work. Many of these artists work with acrylic paint now and these better materials plus the luxury of time and the artist’s eye has allowed the patterns to become much better and more varied.

The marblers in the Twin Cities area were particularly lucky because Steve Pittelkow, one of the marblers included in the Dubinsky collection worked at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and advocated that the Center buy the equipment for marbling. He began the practice of teaching marbling regularly there. The Minnesota Center for the Book Arts also added open studios for marbling that allowed participants to practice their skills and produce papers without the structure of classes. In approximately 2015 marbling students there were asked if they wanted to continue learning by joining an informal group that met to discuss marbling every other month.

In 2022, that group decided to organize formally, seek a studio of their own, and begin to expand their learning formally. They believe that working together they can learn more, refine their practices, and expand the awareness of marbling not just in the Midwest but well beyond. While marbling has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts between the 1960s-2000, it is still struggling to maintain a presence within the art world. For example, the Heritage Craft Society in Britain lists marbling as one of the crafts in its Red List of Endangered Crafts for 2023.

Marbling is a craft/art form that allows individuals to express themselves and to make their thoughts and emotions tangible via art. It is unique in the way the colors relate to one another without blending and in how the process involves working with currents in the vat rather than focusing on brush strokes. It deserves to remain a part of our living expression of art, but the challenges of equipment and expertise mean that it needs advocates. This is why we believe that the activities of Midwest Marbling are important.
This content was created by Sally Power.

If you would like to support this endeavor, we welcome donations whether you are an active marbler or not. (see the Contact page for details)

We would like to thank our founding donors: Hans Koch, Gail Steward, Parry Cadwallader, Sally Power, and someone who would like to remain anonymous.

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