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Librarian plants seed of knowledge to turn discarded books into holiday art

For The Baltimore Sun
Erin Terwilliger will show library patrons how to turn old books into paperflowers.

What's in abundant supply at any library? Books filled with bound sheets of paper, of course.

And what can be done with books that are past their prime other than discarding them? Erin Terwilliger suggests transforming their pages into paper flowers — and can teach you how and supply the materials.

The instructor and research specialist at the Glenwood branch of the Howard County Library System will offer a free holiday class for teens and adults called "Art Escape: Paper Poinsettias" from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday. The topic is the second in a planned series, she said.

Terwilliger says co-workers encouraged her to think of a creative use for titles being removed from the shelves due to infrequent demand as well as for "well-loved books," those heavily-circulated editions that are beyond repair.

Less than one percent of the library system's million-item collection is recycled in any given year, says spokesperson Christie Lassen. But that amounts to nearly 10,000 books.

Terwilliger, who grew up in Ellicott City and still resides there, has long been a fan of upcycling, which puts no longer-needed items to a greater purpose. Artistic by nature, she was inspired to come up with the idea of creating paper poinsettias.

"It's fun to make something beautiful out of common, every-day objects," she said.

Participants will have the option of fashioning the flower's distinctive bracts with pages from a book, alternating them with red, pink or white cardstock, or only using cardstock, which is a thick paper popular with crafters.

Terwilliger kicked off her craft classes by teaching library customers to make origami boxes out of old calendars using the Japanese paper-folding technique. She next showed a class how to upcycle cardboard cereal boxes into the front and back covers of a journal or sketchbook.

She has also made roses from coffee filters in her personal time and was "shocked to see how realistic they looked," she said.

In June, Terwilliger instructed her first Art Escape class in making lotus and peony blossoms from Italian crepe paper. The paper is prized for being thick and stretchy.

"It's malleable and retains its shape," characteristics that were beneficial to creating a realistic version of the many layers of petals in a peony, which is not unlike a rose in appearance.

"That first flower-making class was a huge success and it was really exciting to hear the community say, 'We loved this and we want more,'" she said.

Poinsettias will be made with templates Terwilliger created in four sizes to simulate the bloom's layers of bracts that naturally graduate from to smaller to larger.

Class members will draw the veins on the bracts, which resemble leaves, and can insert cotton swabs that have been dyed bright yellow or crumple small balls of tissue paper to create the stamen in the flower's center.

The flowers will have clip backings and can be used on wreaths or as gift-wrapping decorations. After the class, participants can add stems made of florist's wire at home if they prefer.

Terwilliger is pleased that she can put her skills in the visual arts to use even though her background is in music.

"I studied viola performance and musicology as an undergrad at UMBC," she said, "but I was also thinking about librarianship then, and I've always been heavily involved in art – drawing, sketching and painting, especially."

Kathy Bodine attended Terwilliger's June class and enjoyed the experience.

"I like that you are given instructions and advice, and get the chance to dabble in something new in a nice environment," said Bodine, a mechanical engineering project manager who lives in Glenwood.

She regularly reads "Source," the library's quarterly guide to classes and events, and signs up for something from nearly every issue.

"The classes take you down a little path," she said. "I'm a big fan."

Terwilliger said she has more in mind than just crafting when she sets up her classroom.

"I have soothing music playing so people can zone out and leave life's stresses and fast pace behind for a couple of hours – especially during the holiday season," she said.

"Interesting conversations also take place between some class members, since a class often brings together people who otherwise wouldn't have met," she said.

Lori Conforti, teens' instructor and research specialist at Glenwood Library, says the goal of library classes like Terwilliger's is for participants to walk away with a finished product.

"People enjoy learning a new crafting technique and taking home a unique item," she said. "When you attend one of these classes, you will create a one-of-a-kind object to brighten up your home or to give as a gift."

Conforti said Terwilliger draws on a broad range of skills to create interesting projects for library patrons and is always open to trying new things.

"She definitely has the geek cred," she said with a laugh, making sure it's understood that's a compliment.

Terwilliger is already looking ahead to March, when she plans to teach paper roses as the third installment of the Art Escape series.

She said no previous art experience or talent is necessary to sign up for any of these sessions.

"Even if you don't feel you're an artist, you can use the creative side of your brain during these classes without fear of judgment," she said. "The final product doesn't have to be perfect."

Since supplies are provided, class size is limited. Walk-ins may be accepted if space permits. To complete required registration, go to hclibrary.org/classes-events or call 410-313-5577.

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