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Over the past three years, the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology has partnered with the Paper Science and Engineering Department and the Division of Fine Arts and Communication. Together, they created RiverPoint paper, an art paper that is produced on campus and distributed nationwide.
“What’s happened with RiverPoint has kind of exceeded all expectations,” said Paul Fowler, the Executive Director of The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology. “It’s providing a great value paper, it’s providing a great sub-straight for students to do their creative work on, it’s providing real-world work experience for paper science and engineering students, and it’s providing the opportunity to do some great design work around RiverPoint as well.”
These three entities came together in order to create a high-quality, archival, art paper at an economical cost for students and faculty in the visual arts. This goal was made attainable due to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s on-site pilot paper machine.
“I thought ‘they make paper, we need paper’,” said Printmaking Professor Robert Erickson, who was one of the first individuals involvedwith the creation and distribution of RiverPoint paper. “So they took a piece of paper that we normally use, which is a little heavier paper than normal, analyzed it, and they made an experimental sheet.”
Paper was produced in small trial runs, each of which was then tested by both students and faculty to ensure quality and performance within various media.
“It took us about three or four iterations of the paper to get it where we wanted,” Erickson said. “Once we got a sheet of the paper that we thought looked good, then we decided to take that publicly and begin to market it.”
Though the project began simply, originally aimed to only aid UWSP students, the paper being produced was so successful that now it is made widely available.
“It started out as an interesting student project, but got to the point where we achieved the properties we were looking for in terms of how it looked and performed, that we were interested in seeing if there were other opportunities besides just using it exclusively on campus,” Fowler said.
In order to do so, RiverPoint Paper was introduced earlier this year at the Southern Graphics Council International Conference in Milwaukee, Print: MKE, where actual artists and designers were able to work with the product and gauge its value.
“We used that as an opportunity to essentially do a soft launch of RiverPoint. We wanted to get paper in the hands of artists and printmakers and ask ‘do you think this paper is good enough that you would use it if we made it widely available?’” Fowler said.
According to Fowler, the experience was extremely beneficial and sparked a considerable amount of interest.
“As a result of that initial contact, we’ve now made some runs of RiverPoint and sold it and shipped it to customers in 15 states, so there’s real potential for expansion,” Fowler said. “We’re really excited about the prospect that it has, and we’re really only scratching the surface.”
Erickson went on to note that aside from its commercial potential, RiverPoint Paper has also succeeded in its original goal of catering toUWSP students.
“We’re able to get the paper at a greatly reduced cost here, so students are able to buy it relatively cheap, which means that’s an expense that they don’t have to bear, but also they get the chance to be much more experimental. If you know you’re spending so much money, you’re always more cautious, and they can explore and make mistakes because it’s not costing as much,” Erickson said.
Tianna Hamland, a graphic design major, agrees with Erickson, stating that RiverPoint Paper allows her to take creative liberties without being wasteful.
“As art students, our major requires paper for many uses— to sketch ideas, produce visual concepts, and produce final products. Because it’s sometimes hard to be environmentally friendly in the way we use and buy paper. We like using RiverPoint products not only because it’s great paper, but because it is produced locally produced,” Hamland said.