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Paper Nerds

In Exposition Park, two women work to save paper. And we don’t mean by recycling.
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photography by Dan Sellers

Inside what looks like an ordinary loft in Exposition Park, there is an emergency room. There, Tish Brewer and Shannon Phillips attack each patient with scientific know-how and gentle bedside manners. That those patients are made of paper hardly should matter.

“I’ll find myself holding my breath for a long time, you know?” Brewer says of her work at the Center for Art Conservation. “It is like surgery—on things.”

Brewer and Phillips opened up shop last September after moving back to Dallas (Brewer from West Virginia, Phillips from Massachusetts). They took different paths to art conservation as well. Brewer was a studio art and chemistry undergrad until a family friend told her about the field and its marriage of art and science. Phillips came from the opposite side, majoring in art history. They found each other at the University of Texas’ Kilgarlin Center for the Preservation of the Cultural Record. At the CAC, one of the only operations of its kind in the state, their job is fairly wide-ranging (from cleaning and mending tears to lectures and maintenance recommendations). Mostly, though, you could say they save things. Usually.

“There are some things that, I’m sorry, we just can’t make look like it did,” Brewer says. “We don’t like to make old things look new. They’re not supposed to.”

The duo also hosts “Paper Works by Paper Nerds” workshops every month, teaching attendees how to make, for example, Japanese sewn bindings and Jacob’s ladders.

“That’s what’s so rewarding about our job,” Phillips says. “Having that end product. It’s the same with the workshops. Okay, here’s a pile of paper and here’s some glue and then at the end, oh, okay, I’ve got a book.”

They can save those books, too.