Jillian Sico, “Mycorrhizae”

Jillian Sico
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

letterpress, linen/flax paper with charcoal, tree-retted linen paper, bleached flax paper, Alabama kozo paper with watermarks, recycled paper with chanterelle mushroom spores, recycled paper with polypore mushrooms, thread, board, Duo bookcloth
10.75 x 5.8 x .75″

Artist Statement

My work is inspired by the slow, quiet reality encountered in wild places and natural processes. My content is influenced by philosophical, scientific, and religious texts that explore the visible and invisible layers of meaning embedded in natural systems. In-depth, on-site research, especially related to ecology and papermaking traditions, is a key part of my process.

Mycorrhizae explores connectivity and loss from a personal and ecological perspective through an examination of mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizae are necessary symbiotic associations between fungi and plant roots. Mycorrhizal fungi uptake and distribute essential nutrients to plants, store carbon in the soil, and help communicate information among and between plant species.

Research for this project took place in the Cohutta Wilderness and Wildlife Management Area in the mountains of North Georgia. Throughout the course of the project, personal reflections on love and loss became intertwined with research about mycorrhizae and the history of the forest. I knew that I was documenting only a moment in time: this place as I knew and remembered it would one day be gone. North Georgia was logged extensively from the 1880s through the 1950s, leaving only 2% of its original old-growth forest. In October 2016, the catastrophic Rough Ridge wildfire burned almost 28,000 acres in the Cohutta Wilderness. Other disruptions, such as disease and invasive pests, continue to alter the forest landscape, including the hidden, underground landscape that sustains it. But although we may lose a place, we can adjust and form new connections while still earnestly mourning the loss of what was.

I used papermaking as a performative medium to tie the book materially to a specific place and time. I formed sheets from linen fibers that had been buried at the base of a tulip poplar tree in the Cohutta, intertwining with mycelium, fine roots, insects, and worms, and drew organic patterns in the pulp with charcoal harvested from the same tree. I created watermarks based on images of mycelium I saw in soil samples under a microscope, scanned tree roots, and poured jugs of mushroom spores into paper pulp. The sound and texture of the finished paper, along with reflective text and images, recreate for the reader the experience of genuine connection with the forest.

Mycorrhizae is a collaboration that includes a personal, reflective text by the author and an accompanying informational text by ecologist Katie Beidler. The collaboration highlights both the personal, specific and scientific, universal aspects of mycorrhizal connections in a forest ecosystem.

Both books were letterpress printed on a Vandercook #4 press in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The type is Baskerville and the images are based on root scans and mycelium imagery, printed from photopolymer plates. The forest scene is printed from wood veneer. All paper for the edition was made by hand.