“Wall paper hanging is like upholstering a room”

Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams
Heidi L. Johnson. Photo by Tom Adams

There are 6 weeks left until the Lowell Folk Festival. Between now and then, we are posting examples of folk crafts that will be demonstrated in Lucy Larcom Park. Our theme is paper traditions, and that includes the occupational craft  of paper hanging.

Heidi L. Johnson is pretty sure her passion for paperhanging started in her grandmother’s guestroom where the walls were papered with a faux bois of white and beige with lavender roses.   As a five year old, she’d stare at the walls. “I was figuring out pattern repeat. I knew a machine had printed that and I could tell that it had to be engineered around the room.”

The tools of the paperhangers’ trade may be simple (straight edge razor blades, levels, electronic lasers, bristle sweeps, and pasting machines), but their use requires great skill. In fact, wallpaper hanging is considered a higher trade in the building trades. It demands planning, engineering skills, visualizing patterns, knowing materials, prepping walls, and applying the product swiftly and accurately.  “It looks easier than it is,” Heidi says, adding that wallpaper hanging is like upholstering a room. “The sign of a good craftsman is to hide the skill.”

Rolling out a sample of wallpaperHeidi’s background in textile design and her experience in designing and manufacturing wallpaper, make her especially well-suited to papering interiors. She has been a member of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers since 1994, an occupational group she describes as “the paper geeks of the industry.”

Heidi will be demonstrating her craft at the 2014 Lowell Folk Festival in the Folk Craft area along Lucy Larcom Park.

Samples from the Norwood-Day Collection

Children’s paper Lore at the Lowell Folk Festival craft area

Playing with a fortune teller

Children have traditional ways of playing with each other: telling knock-knock jokes; playing store, tag, or make-believe; posing riddles; playing pranks; and creating playthings out of what is at hand. Some of the most commonly made folk toys are made of paper: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers), paper airplanes, spitballs shot through straws, and paper footballs scooted across the table just far enough to balance on the edge but not fall off.

But no one officially teaches this kind of thing in school. In fact, it’s what kids do when the teacher isn’t looking. Children have been learning this type of amusement from each other on school playgrounds for generations. What’s remarkable is that these pastimes show such continuity and stability of form through time. Yet, everyone seems to outgrow them.

Eleanor and Mary may be young teenagers, but they fondly remember the paper lore of their pre-adolescence. Fitting the Lowell Folk Festival craft area’s theme of paper, Eleanor and Mary are here to share their knowledge of making and playing with paper. Come watch them fold a fortune teller, candy wrapper chain, or tissue paper flower. Or try your hand at making one of your own. Share what paper lore games you remember playing as a child.