Field to Library: U of I Collaboration for Sustainable Book Conservation
Fresh Press co-founder Eric Benson and U of I Library Senior Conservator for Special Collections Quinn Ferris. Photo by Jenna Kurtzweil/iSEE

Fresh Press co-founder Eric Benson and U of I Library Senior Conservator for Special Collections Quinn Ferris. Photo by Jenna Kurtzweil/iSEE

A dynamic partnership in the works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign aims to prove that paper doesn’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — grow on trees.

The participants? Fresh Press — a hand papermaking studio at the School of Art + Design — and the U of I Library’s Conservation Unit. Using Fresh Press’ trademark agriculturally sourced materials, the organizations will collaborate to craft a new kind of paper that meets conservation standards and can be used to rebind and repair the Library’s at-risk relics.

Despite existing in separate spheres, the organizations have quickly fallen into step with one another, united by the drive to create meaningful and environmentally conscious material. Fresh Press brings the paper, conservators provide the artifacts, and the result is a multilevel experiment in sustainability, conservation and the fusion of fine art and science.

Eric Benson, co-founder of Fresh Press, defines its mission:

“We want to explore papermaking from a more environmentally friendly perspective, and in the process create more sustainable paper products.”

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‘CornCrete’ — Sustainable Architecture (news)
Illinois Professor Mark Taylor holding a brick of CornCrete.

Illinois Professor Mark Taylor holding a brick of CornCrete.

“There’s an abundance of agricultural fiber produced as a byproduct of crop cultivation,“ he said. “The combine harvesters come by and take out the corn, and everything else gets sent out the back as waste. In some cases, this material is gathered in windrows and taken for animal bedding, but I think there’s also an opportunity to take some of this material and put it to higher value uses.”

Working out of the Fresh Press Studio, Taylor collaborates with Art + Design Professor Eric Benson to explore and experiment with “how agricultural fibers can be used in three dimensions.” These uses occupy a spectrum of scales, from microscopic fiber analyses — to develop strong and long-lasting paper — up to the architectural scale on which Taylor is currently focused: the construction of monolithic walls.

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