William Joseph “Dard” Hunter was born in Steubenville, Ohio on November 29, 1883. As the son of a newspaper owner and printer, Hunter gained an appreciation for paper and printing at an early age. He began exercising his artistic talents as an illustrator for his father’s new newspaper when the family moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1900. However, Hunter eventually grew weary of newspaper illustration and quit the business to join his brother’s touring magic act.
In the early summer of 1904, Hunter applied for a position with the Roycroft art colony in East Aurora, New York. Despite his initial rejection, Hunter became a full resident at Roycroft, designing books, glass, jewelry, and stained glass windows for the Roycroft Inn. In 1908, he married Edith Cornell, a pianist at Roycroft. Two years later, after becoming frustrated with the commercialism of the Roycroft community, the couple moved to Vienna where Hunter took classes in printing, typographic design, and book decoration at the Royal-Imperial Graphic Teaching and Experimental Institute. Hunter’s legendary passion for paper making was ignited on a visit to London’s Science Museum where he saw an exhibit on historical methods of paper production. Here, Hunter began admiring the craft and artistry behind a growing industry.
Hunter’s love of paper, printing, and design led him to purchase the Gomez Mill House in Marlborough, New York, where he constructed a half-timbered, thatched roofed cottage. Hunter equipped the mill with a waterwheel for production of his own high quality art paper. At his Marlborough mill, Hunter produced two “one-man books” for the Chicago Society of Etchers, in which he made the book paper, designed and cut the punches and cast the type to print the pages on his Washington style press. In all, Hunter wrote and produced over 20 books about paper making, eight of which he printed himself. In 1919, Hunter sold his Marlborough mill and moved back to Chillicothe where he established a press at his historic Mountain House.
In pursuit of his fascination with paper making as an art, Hunter traveled the world, visiting Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Japan, Korea, China, Indochina, Siam, and India to study paper making techniques. From his travels, he collected specimens, tools, equipment, and plant materials, and in 1939 opened the Dard Hunter Paper Museum at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to house the collection. Hunter considered his collection of artifacts to be his most significant contribution to the global history of paper making. The Dard Hunter Paper Museum moved to the Institute of Paper Chemistry (IPC) in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1954 and then to Atlanta in 1989 when the IPC was relocated to Georgia Institute of Technology.
Dard Hunter’s dedication to the art of paper making and printing was recognized with four honorary doctorate degrees from Lehigh University, Wooster College, Ohio State University, and Lawrence University. He was named honorary curator by MIT, the IPC, and Harvard University. Hunter also received the Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography from the University of Pennsylvania and a medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
Hunter’s interest in handcrafts and in the arts inspired his mission to preserve paper making as an art form. Both his publications and museum collection promote the significance of handmade paper as the origin of a global industry. Hunter also helped build a connection between paper as a commodity and as a cultural craft, reintroducing the human element to industry and tracing the evolution of a major commodity.
Dard Hunter died in Chillicothe, Ohio on February 20, 1966. His wife, Edith, and two sons, Cornell and Dard Hunter II are also deceased. His grandson, Dard III, still lives in Chillicothe and continues honoring the tradition of Dard Hunter.