The pages of a book elicit a distinct emotional response. The texture, weight, thickness, and color of the paper all add to the experience of holding a book and turning its leaves. Anna Tewes’ fascination with paper began while teaching prekindergarten at Ashbrook Independent School in Corvallis. She had found papyrus paper from Egypt that resembled tree bark and began forming a tree on her bulletin board. So began her quest to collect interesting papers, traveling as far as Japan and Italy to find them.
On field trips, Tewes and her students would collect leaves. They traced the leaf shapes onto special papers, then cut them out and pasted them onto their tree. “We had little ponds and frogs. Ducks and bunnies. Little animals all cut out of these papers,” Tewes recollected. Eventually she ran out of money in her art budget. Instead of buying new paper, she had the children use the papers from the bulletin board to create small collages. “I thought, ‘This is interesting. All these colors and textures.’” She decided to make her own paper collages and sold some of them to the Corvallis Arts Guild.
Tewes has a graphic arts and design background and approaches her collages through design. The prevailing themes of her collages are nature and fairytale. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras fascinate her because they were very stylized. She also appreciates the Romantic period, as the art was based on fairytales and literature. “I’m mostly interested in mood. It’s less a statement and more about a feeling,” she explained.
The technique she uses is heavily influenced by Chigiri-e, a Japanese art form of paper collage. She often starts with looking at a photo and making a thumbnail sketch. From there she draws the image onto a canvas. The most important step is choosing the papers that make an effective, compatible statement. “I’ll choose one or two colors surrounded by a lot of neutrals,” she elaborated. Using acrylic, she applies the paper pieces to the canvas. Each piece of paper is literally painted on with a paintbrush—hence why she refers to her collages as “paper paintings.”
Paper collage has been Tewes’ full-time profession for the past 10 years. Recently she became president of Gallery Calapooia in Albany, where she exhibits most of her work. Tewes also teaches monthly paper collage workshops at her home to small groups of people. All materials for the workshop are provided, and each student finishes their collage in one day.