The Arts

Hope for an Endangered Art

Veronica Pham MFAx’24 preserves an ancient form of papermaking, with a twist.

Portrait of Veronica Pham in a papermaking studio

For Pham, every piece of paper tells a story. Bryce Richter

Most of us use paper products without thinking much about them. But for artist Veronica Pham MFAx’24, every piece of paper tells a story.

Pham entered the MFA program in the UW’s School of Human Ecology with a passion for papermaking. Her father was a refugee from Vietnam, so she gravitated toward traditional Vietnamese techniques. A trip to Vietnam in 2022 allowed her to learn the art from master practitioners: harvesting fiber in the jungle, stripping off the bark, boiling it, beating it, mixing it in a slurry, forming the sheets, pressing them, and letting them dry. This beautiful process produces the paper used in Vietnamese rituals — and sadly, it’s vanishing from the earth.

“Since the 1980s,” Pham says, “hand papermaking traditions in Vietnam have been in rapid decline as a result of industrialization and wars.”

Pham hopes to keep the craft alive, but with a personal twist. Her own papermaking incorporates plants from her home base in the Midwest — including regional mulberry and hemp — that came to North America via Asia, just as her own parents did. Through her art, she is reflecting on her family’s journey and her own identity.

“I’m embedding a kind of information into the paper,” Pham says. “It’s a way of talking about migration and healing through the tradition of papermaking.”

Pham credits UW professor Mary Hark with helping to clarify her artistic approach. This March, in an MFA thesis exhibition at the School of Human Ecology’s Ruth Davis Design Gallery, she’ll celebrate tradition while also showcasing a distinctive sensibility. Expect thin sheets of handmade paper that integrate spun mulberry threads — a.k.a. the “information” embedded in the paper.

Just don’t expect any of the works to look alike.

“One sheet of paper,” Pham says, “is never the same as the last sheet of paper.”

Published in the Spring 2024 issue


  • M.L.Krase March 7, 2024

    Super! I was a graduate from Papermaking at UW with Walter Hamady and still continue working with rags and served in residency for many years with WI teaching K-12 all over the state and country. I have been focusing recently on Banana leaves as I share time in New Orleans and there is an abundance. Looking forward to seeing the show.

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