The New Hands of Cave Paper: Zoë Goehring

After more than 20 years of leading the beloved Cave Paper mill, Amanda Degener — who founded Cave Paper alongside Bridget O’Malley in a cobble-stone lined basement in Minneapolis, Minnesota — has retired from Cave Paper. Cave Papers are made of Egyptian or Belgian Flax, often heavily sized, and extremely durable. They are used often for bookbinding, box-making, decor, design, and artwork. At the helm now, is new generation owner Zoë Goehring who shares her story and excitement below!

Zoe in the new Cave Paper mill forming new sheets of Cave Paper

Hiromi Paper: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background with art/papermaking?

Zoë: I was born in Tucson but lived in the northeast from the age of two. I feel lucky that I was encouraged from an early age and throughout my young adult life to look, to ask questions, and to create, and I spent a lot of time playing in the woods when I was growing up. I think those things were pivotal in shaping who I am and my creative practice — most of the time I am just trying to tap back into those questions and ways of playing. I’ve never had just one thing I’ve wanted to do. When I was in college at Carnegie Mellon University I studied art and creative writing as a part of their Bachelor of Humanities and Art program. I started making my own paper during my time there in a kiddie pool in my studio and in my bathtub at home, just with a blender and window screens from the salvage shop. It was a process I really enjoyed but did not dive very deeply into the world of papermaking at the time. While I had some incredible teachers, by the time I graduated I felt pretty disenchanted with both academia and the art scene as I understood it then. I left Pittsburgh (although I loved living there, it’s a great city) and moved to Maine for an apprenticeship on an organic farm and really connected with the work. After a couple of years, I helped manage a small organic vegetable operation Dig Deep Farm, founded by my friend Dalziel Lewis. There came a natural point in the growth of the farm and our own lives for us to part ways, and I returned to the southwest to be closer to family. I made a decision then to center my creative work in my life in a way I had not been able to while farming.

Zoë couching freshly formed sheets on wool felt

Hiromi Paper: When did you start gathering steam or know that you would be taking over Cave Paper? How did it unfurl?

Zoë: I had been renting a small studio in Tucson that I set up primarily as a sewing space, and was trying to get a small sewing business in motion. I’d spent most of the last decade waiting tables in the farming off-season and working as a baker, trying to find that balance between making enough money and having the time and energy to focus on my own work, and it wasn’t working very well. Running my own small business seemed like a way to create that balance for myself. I was talking to my dad one day about sewing with paper, and he called me a few days later to tell me I needed to meet Amanda Degener. He met her at a co-operative conference (he is a co-operative consultant, and Amanda was there representing her local food co-op) and she was wearing a vest made out of her Persimmon paper. He texted me a photo of her! It was very funny, and a very typical thing for my dad to do — he is very enthusiastic and always connecting people. Amanda and I began talking and she told me she was open to selling her business. There had been some movement to turn it into a co-operative business so that she could retire, but that hadn’t panned out as hoped. It was a lot to think about right away but the timing was right! I took a trip to Minneapolis to meet Amanda and tour her studios, and I felt connected to her and her work right away. One thing she said that really resonated with me was that she started Cave Paper as a way to support herself and to always have her hands in the work, even if she wasn’t able to make her own art every day. After that visit with Amanda, we worked on the details of the transition for about a year before the move took place. I’m very grateful for the assistance I have received in start-up costs and Amanda’s openness to a payment plan, both of which made the shift actually possible.

A view of uncolored Cave Papers on drying racks and Cloudy Sky hanging out

Hiromi Paper: When did moving commence and how long did it take?

Zoe: The move itself only took about a week, but both the preparation and setting up in our new location took much longer. We’ve been operating out of the new space for almost three months and it is very much a work in progress! After we moved the equipment, there were some renovations needed to the space including building a heavily insulated room around the beater and making sure we had the right electrical set-up to run it. Amanda came to Tucson for about a month to help me finish setting up the equipment and continue our training which was crucial. And of course making sure we were all staying safe and healthy during the pandemic added another level of complexity to the move.

Brushing unripened persimmon juice (kakishibu) onto Cave Paper sheets

Hiromi Paper: Do you have a favorite Cave Paper to make?

Zoë: I love layering indigo and walnut together!

Hiromi Paper: Do you have new Cave Paper styles that you hope to realize soon?

Zoë: This first year I am planning on keeping the current Cave Paper catalog as it is, but I will be adding my own designs down the road. I look forward to experimenting more with sisal and other southwestern fibers and colors.

Hiromi Paper: How do you see Cave Paper evolving due to the new climate/geographical location? Do you find that some of the Cave Paper varieties benefit from the change of environment?

Damp sheets coated with walnut dye enjoying the Arizona air

Zoë: The biggest difference is our relationship with water. In Minneapolis, water was Cave’s least expensive resource — here in Tucson that is definitely not the case. I save most of the water from production to reuse, and I’m looking forward to finding the right system to make that process easier. And our indigo vat is very happy in this climate!

A crowd favorite: Indigo Layered Day with White drying outside in Cave Paper’s new backyard

Hiromi Paper: This might be coupled with the previous question, but what do you hope for the future of Cave Paper?

Zoë: This has been a challenging year for all of us. I think there are many projects awaiting Cave in the future, but for now I am most looking forward to opening the studio up to the community for classes and workshops, internships, and events. I feel very fortunate to be operating Cave Paper and hope it can continue to be a resource for others as well.

To view our selection of Cave Papers click HERE.

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