The “ancient” art of handwritten letters is all but extinct. Elegantly scripted epistles have waned in popularity as text messages now reign supreme. In an era of ephemeral communication, simple tangible correspondence is a rare thing of beauty.

From April 18 to July 2, the Norton Museum of Art explores the intimacy and artistry of letter writing in Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Letters and postcards from the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Marcel Duchamp, and Mary Cassatt invite viewers to become voyeurs into the lives of these artists through their personal correspondence.

“You put so much of your soul into handwritten letters,” says Rachel Gustafson, who spearheaded the exhibit at the Norton. “To see these artists having very casual conversations—and feelings of regret, sadness, happiness, or elation—is so interesting because it humanizes them in a way.”

Inspired by this exhibition, we asked five area arts influencers to put pen to paper and write their own sort of “love letter to Palm Beach County,” expressing how the community has succeeded in fostering a vibrant cultural scene that has allowed their organizations to thrive.

Photography by Robert Nelson

Video: Handmade Paper

This paper was handmade by Trish Halverson, manager of arts and cultural education at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, with help from Lake Worth community members. Watch the video below to see the process in action, then follow the steps to make your own batch.

What you’ll need (click to expand)
This yields 50 to 75 sheets of paper, depending on thickness.

  • 1 lb. Thai fiber, also known as kozo
  • 4 oz. soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate
  • A mold and deckle
  • Large stainless steel pots
  • A wooden mallet
  • A colander
  • Water

*All supplies can be purchased from Carriage House Paper at carriagehousepaper.com.

The Process (click to expand)
Step 1: Soak the fiber overnight in cold water.

Step 2: The next day, add fiber to boiling water and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: After an hour, add the soda ash. (This will dissolve the non-cellulose parts of the fiber, softening the fiber by cooking out the woody components.)

Step 4: Cook the fiber in boiling soda ash for about 2 hours. Then, test its readiness by pulling apart the fibers both lengthwise and widthwise.  When the strands can pull apart easily, the fiber is ready to be rinsed.

Step 5: Using a colander, rinse the fiber in cold water. Keep rinsing until the water runs clean.

Step 6: The fiber is now ready for “beating,” which essentially means separating out the individual fibers. In contemporary papermaking studios, they would use the equivalent of a food processor for this step, but you can simply use a wooden mallet and beat the fiber by hand until you are left with pulp.

Step 7: Once all the fibers have been ‘beaten,’ what you have left is pulp, the cellulose material of the plant.

Step 8: Fill a low, rectangular vat halfway with cold water.

Step 9: Place a handful or two of the beaten pulp into the water and mix. Now carefully dip and pull the pulp through the mold and deckle to make the sheets of paper. As the fibers go through the mold and deckle, they lock together and the water is drained through the screen, leaving you with a thin surface of pulp.

Step 10: Lay each sheet onto a wooden surface to dry for 24 hours. After that, peel your sheets from the surface and voilà! The paper is ready for use.