The Suitcase Lady


September 8, 2015, 10:21 pm

When I was three, I decided to be an artist. My beloved Aunt Vi encouraged me in this endeavor. She was the head file clerk for a large company, and when she culled her files, she gave me boxes of discarded paper to draw on. First, I would sort it by usable drawing space (all had type on at least one side) and second by color. I felt rich.

Perhaps this gift explains why I am a one woman crusade to get paper the respect it deserves. Paper is such an ordinary, omnipresent part of our daily lives that many people squander and discard it without a thought.

Every child who has been an art student of mine knows my mantra. “Paper comes from trees, and we don’t throw trees in the garbage.” Invariably, some students will reply that they deserve a second piece because they recycled their first one.

I counter that recycling involves great quantities of energy, and it is more ecological to use the first piece more wisely. “If you mess up, you fix up. If all else fails, turn the paper over and start again.”

A short incident many years ago involving children and paper is etched in my brain. I was at a workshop for children at New Mexico’s Folk Art Museum. A group of Huichol Indian children from Mexico were guests of the museum and joined local children to do an art project. The Indian children did not speak English, but art is a universal language,   and they eagerly worked on their drawings alongside the American kids. Then, all of a sudden, one of the local girls scribbled over her work, balled up the paper in her fist and tossed it in the trash.

The looks on the Indian children’s faces  were of shock, horror and fear. “Is she going mad?” their expressions conveyed. To some of the world’s young people, a beautiful piece of drawing paper is a treasure.

As our American children head back to school, I hope they value all the school supplies in their new backpacks……and, more importantly, their chance to get a good education.


3 Comments for this entry

  • Noreen Strehlow on Facebook

    My father worked in a machine shop with engineers who had 4H pencils they would discard after little use. He brought them home and also give me stacks of really old school perforated computer paper that was very thin with the back printed with printed data. I carefully separated, folded in half and then in half again to get surfaces on which I could write or draw. I disliked the paper so when I got good paper, it was special and never wasted. I would read my kids ISH so they wouldn’t waste drawing paper and we also practiced drawing on whiteboards so they had a good idea how to approach a blank sheet without any fear.

  • Alyce Weiss on Facebook

    I remember as a child how special it was to get a pad of paper of my own. Mostly had paper which had been used on one side.

  • Elizabeth Levins on Facebook

    I donated old letterhead and those free stickers one receives in the mail to my kid’s daycare center so they could play post office. Now I print drafts on the reverse side of used paper. Frugal and environmentally correct!