In the early years of her career, Denise Fleming was drawn to a job that was, she says, “very different.”
As a papermaking teacher, she was working with students with special needs, with children with learning disabilities, and with a wide range of developmental disabilities.
“I didn’t want to work with someone who would be forced to work in a workshop with a limited number of tools, who would have to work under a lot of stress and be constantly on the lookout for mistakes,” Fleming recalls.
“It was very isolating.
And, you know, I knew I was going to be alone in the room.
It was so isolating.”
Fleming, who is now a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, says she was looking for ways to connect with her students, to connect them to a world of work, to find ways to bring joy to them.
“There was so much I was passionate about in my career, and there was a lot I wanted to do with the people around me,” she says.
“So I started thinking, why am I just doing this for myself?
Why do I want to do this?”
And so she set about making papermaking a career, a goal that she had always considered achievable.
“In the beginning, I didn’t have much faith in myself,” Fleing says.
But in 2013, she found herself with an opportunity to explore the art of papermaking.
Her husband, who had a medical condition that made him unable to do the job, had just passed away.
“We had a beautiful, beautiful time.
And I realized that there was something so exciting about this, that I wanted it to be something that I could have a real purpose for.
And it was.”
To find a way to make the work she loved possible, Fleming decided to do it alone.
The goal became more challenging when she began to see the impact that her teaching had on others.
“Every time I was doing a paper, I was thinking, if I’m going to do that, then I have to be prepared to work on this for years,” she recalls.
With the help of a colleague, Fleing made the transition to teaching papermaking herself.
She has now taught the craft to thousands of students, including many with disabilities.
She says she loves teaching and it’s been an incredible journey.
“The people I’ve taught have become amazing, they’ve gotten jobs in the industry and they’re still able to do papermaking,” she laughs.
Fleming also discovered a passion for art that she has continued to nurture in her teaching career.
“Papermaking is a very unique craft, and it is not for everyone,” she explains.
“And, I think there’s a lot to learn about how to use a lot more different tools.
“They can go to art school, and I hope they learn a lot from it.” “
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They can go to art school, and I hope they learn a lot from it.”
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