News & Views
Photo of Sandwich Village by Joe Janis
What is your name and the name of your business?
My given name is Margaret Merritt, but usually go by Peggy. When I was a child in southwestern Ohio, my mother used my given name only when I was in trouble; i.e., “Margaret Merritt, you get in here right this minute!”
I started “Basket Street Papers” around the time my husband Ron Lawler and I bought our house on Basket Street and I began making paper there. My focus has now turned from papermaking to printmaking.
How did you get to Sandwich, NH?
I first visited Sandwich in the early 1970s during an afternoon drive to explore the region around the Holderness School where I was attending a scientific conference.
My real connection with New Hampshire began with a 1986 vacation, when Ron and I were living in Norfolk, Massachusetts. We rented a Lake Ossipee cottage from Betsy Rouner who soon became a close friend. She introduced us to a number of Sandwich folks, including her brother Lee and his wife Rita. We bought a camp on Mt. Israel Road, near Booty Farm, in 1989. Summer weekends and vacations in that camp led to our buying the Basket Street House in 1996 and becoming year-round Sandwich residents in 2002.
How did you get started in your profession?
I began taking evening classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art in Michigan when I was research chemist at The Upjohn Company and eventually found my art niche in printmaking. I left active printmaking when I began teaching at Wellesley College in 1982. In my last two years at Wellesley, I taught “Chemistry and Art,” a lab-studio course for non-science students and included a section on etching. Parts of that course were expanded and included in a lecture series on the “Chemistry of Library Materials” that I presented to staff of the Harvard University libraries in fall of 2003.
The beautiful papers used in printmaking drew me into my first New England art-making experience in 1998 when I took a course in Japanese hand papermaking at the School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. That experience led to my making paper outside on Basket Street during the summer and in the bathtub in winter. While still at Wellesley, I was juried for papermaking in the Sandwich Home Industries and began to show and sell some of my paper art there and elsewhere. My work, under Basket Street Papers, included cards, pulp paintings, and dyed and painted papers and grew in scope after my retirement in 2002.
One of the my most interesting papermaking projects was creating a piece containing recycled U.S. currency in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Crane Museum of Papermaking in 2005. The Crane family has made the paper for all United States currency since 1879. Composed of shredded discarded U.S. currency and Asian fibers, my contribution “Strong as the Dollar” highlights the inter-dependency of world currency and is now in the permanent collection of the Museum.
I painted with wet colored pulp in addition to making paper in sheet and sculptural forms. Such pulp paintings served as the basis for a collaborative piece, with lithographer Anita Dillman, that now hangs in the cancer research center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Suzanne Lee of Lakes Gallery at Chi-Lin, then in Meredith, helped facilitate this commissioned piece.
Even when making art papers, I longed for an etching press. Etching processes require a fairly expensive, heavy press in contrast to the simple equipment used in Asian-style papermaking. Shortly after refreshing my printmaking skills in a 2005 course at Plymouth State, I bought that much desired press. As with each sheet of handmade paper, most of my prints are now made—pulled—individually by hand, using my press.
Although I continued both hand papermaking and printmaking work for over a decade, my principal focus gradually shifted to the latter. I recently gave away most of my papermaking equipment; some will be used to establish a papermaking studio at Smith College.
The experimental and collaborative nature of modern printmaking resonates with the scientist in me. Printmakers constantly seek new ways to translate their imagined images into reality and willingly share their discoveries. One of my most rewarding printmaking adventures came from collaboration with two other New Hampshire artists, Anne Garland and Wendy Ketchum. Together we produced twenty unique prints containing a distinct layer from each of us, and led to an exhibition at the Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery in 2016.
Tell us more about your work.
The natural world provides the inspiration for most of my designs, ranging from realistic impressions to abstract interpretations. I make each of my hand-pulled prints individually by transferring inked images from one or more flat plates to paper. I often overlay different images by sequential printing of multiple plates with different inks to produce a single print.
Most of my early Sandwich prints were made from traditional chemically etched copper plates to produce black and white etchings.
I have embraced other techniques and color in more recent prints. “On the Edge,” was included in a 2017 exhibition focused on climate change at the Carrega Gallery.
Using printing plates constructed from dried plant material, I made the 2019 “Running Pine” print.
Scissors served as a model for the multi-colored 2020 “Rambling.”
I mainly show and sell my hand-pulled prints through galleries, locally at the Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery in Sandwich, and Artworks in Chocorua. I also exhibit my work through the New Hampshire Art Association, the Monotype Guild of New England, and Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, Massachusetts. My own processes use “environmentally green” processes, pioneered by Zea Mays. All my materials and resultant prints are of archival quality.
How/why did your start your business?
I use the name “Basket Street Papers” to describe all my work and provide a means for publicizing and sharing my artwork through organizations like the Sandwich Business Group.
What is the most fun/satisfying aspect of your work?
I love the technical details of printmaking as well as learning and experimenting with new techniques and materials. The rhythm and flow of printing by hand imparts a sense of timelessness and meditation to my daily work and, I hope, is reflected in my art.
What is the hardest?
Beginning a new project. I often start by exploring materials as well as constructing trial plates to get something that “feels” right enough to finish a print or a series of related ones. I make many false starts.
How has this last Covid year affected your work?
The Covid year has broadened the horizons of my art life with online workshops and weekly virtual lunches, through my membership in Zea Mays Printmaking. Although sorely missing the company of local folks, I have acquired new friends and artist colleagues from across the country, thanks to ZOOM and Zea Mays. I spent far more time in my studio than in a “normal” year and was able to experiment with many different techniques and subjects. My husband’s companionship transformed the Covid year on Basket Street into a productive retreat.
“Hampshire Hog” serves as an example of a 2020 print made using a sandpaper-covered plate.
“Bits and Pieces” is one of my first attempts at collaging and printing on pieces of old prints.
I devoted a good deal of the spring of 2021 on a series of woodcuts, like the one shown here.
What are your hopes and goals for the future?
I hope that the experimentation that carried me through the Covid-year will continue to enliven my art life. And I look forward to spending more time with the wonderful people of Sandwich.
What else can you tell us about yourself and your work as an artist?
The Sandwich community, including Sandwich Home Industries folks, helped my transition from chemist to artist. I first exhibited my paper art at an Old Home Week Art Show, reborn now as Artisans on the Green. Of the many people who have supported my efforts to “make art,” I would like to acknowledge a few of them: my husband Ron Lawler for his unflagging encouragement of my work; my late neighbor Bob Wright for his pithy advice; and Will Lehmann for his generosity in helping me frame my own art work. I especially thank Patricia Carega for her thoughtful critiques of my art, exhibiting it, and making her gallery a Lakes Region destination for all lovers and patrons of fine art.
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Meet Our Members
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