Handmade Paper Collages: Discovering the Creator at Play


Parishioner Jim Leonard has been making paper art works since about 2006. Perhaps his works can be called collages since they involve gluing paper to a surface, but Jim also uses tissue, inks, watercolors, acrylics, and natural objects like coffee chaff, grass and flower petals to create his pieces.

The process often begins by making paper which involves boiling plant fibers in lye to remove the organic matter from the cellulose. Jim uses a blender to break down the fibers, then screens slurry with a mold and deckle – also called a paper-making sieve. The remaining water is removed by pressing the wet sheet onto a piece of cloth called a “felt” and left to dry. Jim’s favorite plant source for making paper is cattail leaves which he thinks of as a very humble plant.

The joy of production begins with seeing the beauty of the Creator’s work during a walk through prairies and forests. At times Jim takes a few photos that may in some way be included in the finished work. Houses and the sun often appear in his works – that too seems childlike. He also uses the paper to make cards to give to loved ones.  Making paper and gluing it to a framed surface is child’s play. Jim thinks of his art as joining the Creator of the universe at play. 

What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash-at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter very much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 296-297

Please enjoy Jim’s art work below and check out his website here.

Winter Grass
Cone Flowers
Into the Light
We are looking for the city that is to come.
Late Fall
Open and Awake
Two Birds
Under the Moon
Moon over Prairie