Staff Writer Tara Lago reflects on a beautiful art form, collaboration, and reconnecting with old friends.

On a rainy Monday night, I graced the Miller Theatre stage with my presence. To perform? 

No, to create. 

“Blind collaboration is how we continue this work,” Alex Kahn, co-director of Processional Arts Workshop, said to me and the workshop participants. We build on where strangers left off, a cycle of learning, love, and incompletion so that by September 30, our handmade lanterns will light up the Morningside Heights neighborhood from Morningside Park to our very own College Walk.

Our task for this workshop was to add the base layer, white tissue paper or cheesecloth, to these lanterns. Hand-in-hand with our cream cheese and yogurt cartons of glue, my two friends and I applied glue and tissue paper to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, one of 33 books that the community chose to represent the value of stories, ideas, and the freedom to read. 

“Would you love me if I was a bug?” asked my high school friend, who I haven’t seen since the premiere of Barbie.

“Of course.” I smiled. We clearly did not read the book. 

Nevertheless, that did not stop us from enjoying the relaxing lull of brushing glue and letting the tissue paper blanket the lantern’s surface. Soon, we were done, and Alex welcomed us to brainstorm a book for the remaining three lanterns. 

These lanterns embodied open books, literally and figuratively.

From Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to Butler’s Parable of the Sower to Harari’s Sapiens, they could still be anything, and in the spirit of blind collaboration, we had a chance to incorporate our ideas to these lanterns’ destinies. My other high school friend and I wrote Brooks’ World War Z onto the suggestion list, a novel that we thought was relevant because it tackled real-world issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic (with zombies rather than respiratory illnesses, of course). 

I took part in another paper mache technique, this time gluing cheesecloth on the plastic structure of the books. At the next session, a new group of people would apply the white tissue paper. And in the next workshop, someone else would begin gluing colored paper and drawing in the details. Step by step, different hands by different hands, the lanterns would be made. It does indeed take a village to create, nurture, and celebrate art. 

At the conclusion of Monday’s workshop, I felt a sense of peace and accomplishment. My high school friends did too, and we decided to make attending one of these workshops an annual tradition! As Alex Kahn told me about Processional Arts Workshop, “We’re a little non-profit, so we rely on you [the public] to get the art done.” 

If you are interested in learning more about paper mache, register here for the upcoming workshops and be sure to attend the culimating event on September 30 at 8PM!

All photos via Author