Preservation through education

The are few educational resources for the historic trade of paper marbling. Most opportunities are based on a “craft” variety of marbling using modern materials and patterns. While these varieties produce excellent forms of marbling that are carrying marbling forward as an art form, they are not necessarily preserving the trade’s history. Apprentice programs provide the all important resource for preservation.

Historic materials are used in the classroom equally as they are used during a historic trades demonstration.

(Photo of Brian Stern)
The education of an apprentice is greatly improved while in the context of the historic site.

The recreated St. Borromeo Church, Saint Charles, Missouri, provides an excellent marbling shop for the apprentice.

Applying paint

Whisks are used to cast paint onto the Size. The apprentice must learn appropriate handling of the whisk. Whisks may appear to be simple tools, but they have the potential to respond to the subtlest of commands.

“Size”: Rehydrated carrageenan, or Irish moss, is used to increase waters surface tension. The all important difference in surface tension between the Size and water based paint provides a delicate balance. This delicate balance requires a delicate hand when using the whisk.

Miss Elizabeth Stern commands the whisk to apply
a thin film of paint onto the thick Size.


Rakes are common tools used in paper marbling. They are brought through Size to distort the delicate paint film on its surface. These distortions are what create patterns.


Laying down paper onto the Size is one of the most difficult steps in paper marbling. The apprentice quickly learns that the smallest of movements can be transferred through the paper to the fragile paint. The delicate paint film exists temporarily on the Size. It becomes permanent only after it is attached to the papers surface.

Miss Schafer learns proper placement of paper for the printing phase of paper marbling.

(Photo by Carolyn Whetzel Hanke.)

Removal of the paper

Removing wet paper with thick Size clinging to its surface can easily tear its corners.

Knowing how to carry wet paper is a skill in itself.

Washing the paper

Once paper is removed from the Size, it is placed on the washing easel where thick Size and excess paint are removed. The wet paper must then be transported to the ropes.

Drying the paper

The final step before storing marbled paper, is to allow air to slowly remove its moisture. Care is taken to find a place that wind and sun will not harm the fragile paper. With practice, the apprentice will have successfully placed it on the ropes without tearing. Once dry, the paper regains its strength.

County and state fairs provide large numbers of the general public hands-on access to historic trades.

(Laura Wiltse-Tibbetts of Hamburg, New York, Student of paper marbling)

Laura Gucci achieving the difficult task of laying down the paper while making a Hatip Ebru at the Erie County Fair.

The marbling shop is always open to friends of the paper marbler. Local artisan-cooper, Nathan Wolfenbarger, and Dean Hardman, retired site director of the Stonewall Jackson Boyhood Home, Weston, West Virginia, routinely contribute to the demonstration.

(Left to right: John C. Bielik, Nathan Wolfenbarger, Dean Hardman. Photo by Rosie Dupuy, weaver.)

The Harvest Celebration at Dollywood provides an excellent venue to share historic trades. This festival lasts 23 days, so there’s plenty of time to discuss the finer points of paper marbling.

(Journeyman Valerie Schellenger spent 10 days enhancing her marbling skills. I used her office skills to enhance my sales keeping records. There’s more to being a paper marbling than marbling paper …)

Non-historic venues, such as community art galleries, introduce students to historic trades with hands-on experiences.

(Adult class at New Harmony Gallery, New Harmony, Indiana)

Children’s hands-on workshop at the Magic House Children’s Museum in Kirkwood, Missouri.