Recalling the expert of hand papermaking history, Elaine.

Elaine Koretsky, in memoriam

(Extracted from the magazine, Hand Papermaking)

Elaine Koretsky: In Memoriam


donna koretsky, winifred lutz, tin tin nyo, & wu zeng ou


Elaine and Donna at the opening of “Before Paper,” an

exhibition at the International Paper History Museum,69f36986ba558aa118a1bcfadafc8b0

participating in the making of tapa cloth. Fasi Village,

Nuku’alofa, Tonga, July 1990. All photos courtesy of

Donna Koretsky unless otherwise noted.

Elaine Koretsky was the quintessential busy person, infusing pas

sion, energy, and creativity in everything she did. In her Carriage

House studio, unusual plant fibers, many from her garden, were

spread out on a table in various states of preparation to be made

into paper. In her home, projects covered every horizontal sur

face. A book project, with accompanying paper samples covered

the entire dining room table, while a script for a documentary

video occupied the kitchen table. Printed copies of emails were

everywhere. When her husband Sidney retired from his medical

practice in 1998, (his office was in their home) she took over the

entire office wing. His file cabinets of medical records were re

placed with folders with titles such as “Silkworms,” “Bark Cloth

Uganda,” and “Letters to Dard Hunter II.” Residual colorful pulp

from years of pulp spraying still cover the front wall. Her playful

mobile of dried colored pulp disks, peeled from the bottoms of

5-gallon buckets, continues to hang from the ceiling. Upstairs at

the International Paper Museum, her latest exhibition from her

vast collection is carefully displayed, accompanied by a color cata

log with informative essays.


Born in Massachusetts, Elaine attended the Brookline Public

Schools, where she was a precocious student. She majored in Rus

sian linguistics at Cornell University under the tutelage of Vladi

mir Nabokov, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. At

age 17 she met her future husband, Sidney, who was a physician

in training at Boston City Hospital. They fell in love and began a

marriage relationship that lasted 65 years. Early in her marriage,

while raising three children, she started a career as a woodworker,

creating elegant furniture, chess sets, and bowls, gaining national

attention when her work was displayed at the 1964 New York

World’s Fair and at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

In 1974, Elaine made her first sheet of paper at age 41, hop

ing to make use of the prodigious amounts of sawdust generated

from her basement woodshop. But after researching this idea and

reading John Mason’s book, Papermaking as an Artistic Craft (pub

lished in 1963), she concluded other plant fibers would be more

suitable and was inspired to experiment with plants from her gar

den. She was immediately mesmerized by the process.34 • hand papermaking

I was a high-school junior at the time and joined her on day two

of her papermaking exploits. We took over the stove, countertops,

and blender, and ate our meals alongside vats of pulp. We quickly

outgrew the kitchen papermaking studio, so when the next door

neighbor had a garage sale, Elaine bought the garage. Carriage

House Handmade Paper Works was established in 1975 in the

distinctive stucco structure, built in 1904 for one of the early cars

(horseless carriages) in town.23c8b12e949d5f6a1a381c17ab853e5

In these early years, Elaine’s papermaking curiosity was insa

tiable; she was constantly experimenting and researching; taking

a university course in paper chemistry, and gleaning valuable in

formation from her scientist friends in the paper industry. After

exhausting her supply of samples that she kept receiving from

these paper mills, she recognized that she had to start purchas

ing the pulps, additives, and colorants herself. We soon realized

we had no idea what to do with our lifetime supply of newly pur

chased materials—a 275-pound bale of pulp and a 55-gallon drum

of sizing, so sharing it with other papermakers seemed the logical

thing to do; our papermaking supplies business was born out of

necessity. Our first “catalog” issued in the late 70s was a xeroxed

8½ x 11-inch sheet of paper.

In the ensuing years Elaine became an authority on hand

made paper, combining her interest in papermaking and horticul

ture and producing paper from every plant imaginable (she grew

cannabis in her garden in the 1980s); she pulp sprayed a 16-foot

square sheet of decorative paper; she conducted workshops at her

studio; and taught as an invited guest lecturer all over the world.

Her works in paper were displayed worldwide. As her career in

papermaking blossomed Elaine developed an interest in the his

tory of handmade paper. Her particular focus was seeking out iso

lated hamlets of papermaking, usually involving a family or fami

lies in a village which had passed on their unique methodology

of papermaking for generations. Elaine correctly reasoned that as

modernity brought roads to formerly isolated villages, the young

generation would move to the cities or develop other interests and

be unwilling to continue the family’s papermaking traditions, and

that hand papermaking would die out.

For the past 30 years she traveled all over the world, concen

trating on China and Southeast Asia, and painstakingly ferreted

out remote locations of hand papermaking, traveled to those vil

lages, and studied the specific indigenous techniques of mak

ing paper in that area, often forming lifelong friendships with

the papermakers and her guides. Elaine, with the help of Sidney

and myself, documented in writing, photography, and video the

specific techniques of each location. She would invariably acquire

not only the unique papers made but also the tools used in the

process. She used her witty persuasion to convince the flight crew

to allow her to carry fragile and unwieldy items onto the plane

including a Tibetan butter churner (for dispersing pulp), and Bur

mese deer antlers (for smoothing pulp).

In 1994, Elaine established The Research Institute of Paper

History and Technology, a nonprofit organization, also known as

the International Paper Museum, located in her carriage house,

which exhibits her vast collection of papermaking books, hand

made paper, and papermaking tools and artifacts from all over

the world. She used the Dewey Decimal System to classify her

enormous book collection and every item was methodically en

tered into a database.


Elaine was the author or editor of seven books and numerous

articles, and produced seventeen documentaries. In 2001 she re

ceived a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Friends of Dard

Hunter, and in 2008 she became an Honorary Member of the

International Association of Paper Historians.

I am grateful to have been in the unique position of having my

mother as my best friend, papermaking compadre, and business

partner. We had a symbiotic relationship, constantly bouncing

ideas off one another and discussing ongoing projects. We spoke

on the telephone at least once a day for the last 38 years. Her

unstoppable energy, perseverance, and scholarship in everything

she did was contagious. Finally, her sense of humor combined

with her strong Boston accent made for entertaining lectures at

papermaking conferences.

Upon learning of my mother’s passing, my best friend from

elementary school Laurie Hoch Rietsema summed it up when

she wrote, “You really were the kid with the cool mom!”

Donna Koretsky

Daughter of Elaine Koretsky

Brooklyn, New York

On the road to the Pakhong Printing House in Dege, Sichuan Province, China.

Photo: Wu Zeng Ou, 2003.

Elaine pulp spraying a 12 x 12-foot sheet outside of Carriage House Paper,

Brookline, MA, 1980.winter 2019 • 35

Elaine Koretsky was the epitome of generosity. Indefatigable curi

osity, fearless persistence in pursuing it, and enthusiastic sharing

of what she learned are what made Elaine so outstanding. When

she began the research that produced her book Color for the Hand

Papermaker, Elaine told me she contacted a chemist who initially

rebuffed her as ignorant about science, but she persisted. The re

sult of her study and research benefited the nascent hand-paper

making community not only because it provided a comprehen

sive survey of methods and chemistry, but it also was the impetus

for Elaine to become a supply source for the hand papermaker.

Elaine was equally generous and untiring in facilitating situ

ations to amplify direct sharing of hand-papermaking techniques

and materials. Elaine spearheaded two key projects that had a

huge impact early on, including the 1980 Boston International

Papermakers Conference and the 1985 Gathering of Papermak

ers. These events and the publications that documented them

greatly enlarged our knowledge base in those early times, as

did the workshops she invited so many of us to give at Carriage

House Handmade Paper Works. I was grateful for the opportu

nity to share information that otherwise may have just remained

in my studio.

I think Elaine, an avid gardener, was furthering her gardening

instincts by propagating papermaking know-how. Finding infor

mation, recording it, and sharing it through writing and teaching,

all with enthusiasm, were Elaine’s MO. Coupled with her being

a fearless adventurer documenting hand papermaking traditions

in many countries, Elaine was, in essence, our female version of

Dard Hunter.

Winifred Lutz


Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

Winifred Lutz, Tropism, 1987–88, 144 inches high x 52 inches

wide x 110 inches deep, sculpture: cast, pigmented, bleached flax

and hemp papers, oak, elm log, fluorescent light fixture. The gray

cast unit contains a second volume of translucent bright green

paper, both lit by a fluorescent fixture. Both the textured opaque

gray and the translucent vivid green colors were made possible by

the use of organic pigments researched and made available by

Elaine Koretsky. Photos by and courtesy of the artist.

Elaine, Donna, and Winifred Lutz, in 1984, outside the Carriage House in

Brookline, Massachusetts, with formed sheets laid out on the grass. Courtesy of

Winifred Lutz.36 • hand papermaking

I first met Elaine Koretsky in Burma when she visited with Donna

and Sidney Koretsky in 1987. I was Elaine’s tour guide, and to

gether we visited papermaking villages, went on oxcart rides on

rough roads, and enjoyed the fresh food that the village papermak

ers offered. My trips with Elaine were marvelous, and in 1991, she

sponsored me to come to the United States. From the start she

took care of me as if I were her own daughter. As an immigrant,

I needed to learn a new lifestyle. Every step along the way, Elaine

was there to guide me, bringing me to family events and social

events as her Burmese daughter. She knew me, appreciated me,

and encouraged me like my Burmese mother always did. When

I created flower papers in Carriage House studio, she advertised

it in their Carriage House Paper catalogue as “Tin Tin’s Flower

Paper.” I learned from her not only the papermaking arts, but

also how to resettle successfully in this land of opportunity. When

my Burmese mother passed away, Elaine was traveling in China.

She sent me a postcard saying “Count on me as your American

mother, I am here for you.” I am fortunate to have met such a

kind soul, and I’m sure she would be very proud of me and happy

for me. I miss my American Mother, Elaine.

Tin Tin Nyo

“Burmese Daughter” of Elaine Koretsky

Boston, Massachusetts

From left to right: Wu Zeng Ou, a Tibetan girl, Sidney and Elaine Koretsky, en

route to Dege, China. 2005. Courtesy of Wu Zeng Ou.

I first met Elaine Koretsky, and her husband Sidney, on November

5, 2000, when I picked them up from the Guiyang Airport. My

first impression was that they were in such good spirits despite

their age! I served as their guide on their travels through South

east Guizhou province.

Hidden in undeveloped mountainous areas with bad trans

portation conditions, Southeast Guizhou’s minority villages had

been isolated for many years. This helped to preserve the region’s

rich, unique culture, with its many traditional techniques includ

ing hand papermaking in very old ways. Elaine was attracted to

all of these resources, searching from one village to the next. She

and Sidney found many unexpected “new” things and they kept

coming back to Guizhou very often, almost every year, sometimes

with groups and sometimes just by themselves.

Together we visited almost every corner of Guizhou province,

and discovered many, if not all, of the hand papermaking spots;

some were still in use, while some had just relics. “Unbelievable,”

Elaine would say when we discovered nearly all kinds of paper

making by hand, especially techniques she had never seen in

other parts of the world.59468f62474cd0e12e95cf82d78abf2

Besides Guizhou province, I accompanied Elaine and Sidney

to Anhui and southern Sichuan provinces to visit xuanzhi produc

tion areas, and to western Sichuan and Yunnan provinces to track

down Tibetan papermaking. Many of the villages, where the most

traditional techniques were being practiced, were quite remote.

Often we had to walk on foot to get there. I was amazed by their

power of determination. Their advanced age and poor eyesight

made it difficult, but they managed to climb the hills and walk

rugged, narrow paths, sometimes in the dark!


Traveling with Elaine for so many years, I have learned a lot

from her, not only about papermaking history, which I now offer

to my subsequent tourist groups, but also about faith and com

mitment to a lifetime passion, so strong, that I feel as if Elaine is

still alive, and that she will never pass away!!

Wu Zeng Ou

Tour Operator, China International Travel Services (CITS)

Southeast Guizhou, China