Paul Robbert: The Art of Papermaking and Life

Paul Robbert was dedicated to art from a very young age. His talents ranged from painting to printmaking and to the art form to which he dedicated much of the last thirty years namely papermaking. 

In 1957 he was hired to serve on the Western Michigan University art faculty. He remained a professor of drawing, printmaking and papermaking for forty-one years. He set-up the printmaking department and was instrumental in establishing papermaking into the curriculum. Robbert’s award-winning artwork was exhibited across the country and known in many parts of the world.  He was part of the Paper Art ’87 Convention in the Netherlands as a guest artist at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Paul Robbert was an important trailblazer in the development of handmade papermaking in the United States. One of the unique aspects of Robbert’s art was that he made his own paper mill and created new processes to form paper. At that time in this country papermaking was a lost art and much of the process was experimental. He was an innovator in vacuum formed paper that created a more sculptural effect. Paul found new and creative ways to retrofit ordinary found objects into new equipment for making paper.

Paul was one of the founders of the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and the paper mill there is dedicated to him.  In the last year of his life, he was invited to display his work at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts. He still was creating new work for the show.

Robbert was known for his sensitivity and his passion for color in papermaking and art. He was a generous and caring professor and his students are numerous and spread throughout the country passing on his legacy.

The following is an artist statement Paul wrote describing the importance of art in his life:

Since early childhood, I experienced art as if it were another language analogous to writing and speaking – a kind of visual language. I felt the need to respond to thoughts and feelings deriving from my conscious and sub-conscious experiences. The need to get a handle on the “something else going on” that is often inexplicable beyond the usual day-to-day experiences is a driving force in my urge to express.  Artists strive to translate these feelings to all humans, more or less. The artist in each one of us potentially “awakens” elusive thoughts and ideas beyond the pale of day-to-day awareness. I have always been fascinated with Hans Hofmann’s concept of art namely ‘Art is a search for the real.’ A true reality can only come to fruition through art that transcends the everyday. In this way, art makes us aware of thoughts and ideas that otherwise remain asleep, left behind and never realized.