Making marbled paper

Making marbled paper

Marbled Paper and Poetry

APP partnered with Tom Leech, Director of the Press at the Palace of the Governors, curator at the New Mexico History Museum and internationally recognized paper marble artist.

Leech writes, “Swirling colors. Intricate patterns. Mystery. Marbled end-papers have pleased and intrigued readers and book collectors for centuries. My study of the craft of marbling sends me on a journey of color and delight.”  



Leech led us on a journey, into the whirling poetry of marbled paper. He conducted workshops for people living with memory loss at Sierra Vista Assisted Living Center and Santa Fe Cares and at Art Street for homeless people.

A key success in achieving our outcomes of art creation and participant engagement, was planning the methodology for people living with memory loss to create marbled paper.


Making marbled paper

Making marbled paper

During the stakeholders meeting, the guest artist Leech led us through the steps in the process of creating marbled. At each of the steps we outlined how people in various stages of memory loss might be engaged. We then used the marbled paper as inspiration to create poems.

The steps include:
a) Color choice
b) Creating patterns using various tools including rakes, combs and sticks
c) Placing the paper on the surface of the water to transfer the marbled paper colors and patterns to the paper.
d) Ask a series of open-ended questions on what the participants are seeing and feeling while looking at the marbled paper.

We found that all participants were able to make choices of colors and decisions on when to stop adding color. Leech used a handover hand technique to guide participant’s hands in creating patterns when the participant needed help. However, most participants were able to manipulate the tools on their own.

There was a strong sense of validation in the participant’s autonomy in creating the marbled paper. After each paper was pulled and the colors and patterns revealed, the group always responded unprompted with a collective sigh of “ahhhhh….” Expressing the beauty of the marbled paper.

A culminating event and two-month long exhibition was held at the NM History Museum. The exhibit included 20 framed marbled papers, 20 marbled papers on festive clotheslines made by people living with memory loss, 3 historic marbled papers from the museum’s collection and a video showing the process of creating marbled paper. The works were exhibited along with poems created in the project. During the opening for the exhibit people living with memory loss were joined by the general public in creating and performing poems.

Performing poetry at the exhibit

Performing poetry at the exhibit

The many patterns, colors and shapes of the marbled paper made for strong inspiration to create images and lines of poetry. We elicited the text by asking opened questions while looking at the marbled papers. This Rorschach like process resulted in strong, vibrant poems.



In addition to the work generated in the workshops, Leech came up with the idea of using the marbled paper once again for inspiration in creating poems during the opening of the exhibit. As the group toured the exhibit and looked at the work they had created we once again asked open-ended questions on the theme of the shapes and colors of the marbled paper. This time Leech wrote the group’s responses directly onto the glass of the framed marbled paper. This gave a dynamic and visceral feel to the fusion of art and poetry.

Red Watermelon Sun

(Created by the poets of Sierra Vista with poets Gary Glazner and Joanne Dwyer. We were inspired by the poems, “Blue Butterfly,” by Robert Frost, “Colors Passing Through Us,” by Marge Piercy and especially “Southern Sun Rise,” by Sylvia Plath, with its lines, “And out of the blue drench/ Of Angels’ Bay/ Rises the round red watermelon sun. We warmed up by performed the model poems using “call and response,” where a workshop leader said a line of poetry and had the group repeat or echo back the line in unison. We created the poem by asking open-ended questions about the marbled paper.)

Looks life blue fire,
Like blue bird wind.
You did well.
It’s beautiful,
an amazing process.
That’s fine.
I see the red watermelon sun.
Big swirls of blue cheese.
I’d be eating the red watermelon sun.
It looks like a form you would meet in space.
To the moon!
Somehow it will take me there.
I would bring my girlfriend the moon.
It looks like a funny face!
It’s being wise, being goofy.
It looking like I’m on a mountain
diving in the ocean.
I want to dive off,
right off the cliff.
That was one of my dreams,
I have fulfilled it and it was cold.
I like to think of color.
It has eyes looking out, black eyes.