Sharing a Passion for Paper

Nancy Akerly embraces a love of all things paper, creating journals, boxes, frames and more with one-of-a-kind marbled paper. Photo by Len Villano.

Nancy Akerly has a passion for paper art. Whether it’s origami, bookbinding, making paper-covered boxes or marbling, Akerly has it covered. She has combined her love of teaching with her passion for paper art into her business, Liberty Grove Paper Arts.

“Working with paper helps the brain work better. It builds creativity, structure, confidence, you get to create with your hands and find the right color combinations. The possibilities are unlimited,” she said with a smile.

Akerly was first introduced to origami as an 8-year-old when she leaned the folding art at a Saturday Park Program in Chicago.

“When I first saw origami, I was in love. It struck a chord in me. If you make a mistake, you can start new.” Akerly said.

At a young age, Akerly had her career picked out.

“I’ve always known I wanted to teach.” Akerly first taught neighborhood kids to read at a young age and taught origami as a high school student. Being a voracious reader, Akerly was introduced to and learned the art of bookbinding at the age of 16.

Akerly went on to teach elementary school for 39 years mainly at Gibraltar, with a few years teaching for the Department of Defense in Germany, before retiring in 2010.

Akerly creates her paper art. Photo by Len Villano.

While in the classroom, Akerly always taught origami and bookbinding to her students. She would make books with each class, too. It was a great way for students to use both sides of the brain simultaneously.

“I was always trying to find each child’s strengths and gifts,” she said.

Akerly also liked how she could incorporate math, geometry, geography and Asian culture while teaching origami.

“It’s a become a worldwide passion, using an inexpensive material and a great way to make gifts,” she said.

After sharing origami with her students and continuing her hobby of making paper art, Akerly had collected so much Asian paper and had to start using it for something besides origami and bookmaking. She creatively combined her knowledge of bookbinding and love of paper into making paper-covered boxes.

“Finally all my friends and relatives had books, so I started covering boxes,” Akerly said.

Then, after all her friends and family had boxes, she realized she had to start selling them. Her business, Liberty Grove Paper Arts, was created in order to keep creating and share her work with others.

“The FOG (Friends of Gibraltar) Fair was coming up and I thought to myself, maybe I could sell some of these. The first box I ever sold was to a man who was putting an engagement ring in it,” she recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘I can stop happy right now.’” She knew she had found a new niche for her passion for paper art.

Besides keeping busy with Liberty Grove Paper Arts, Akerly continues to teach and share her love of paper at The Clearing in Ellison Bay, Sievers on Washington Island, Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek and the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay.

Akerly bound this journal with her one-of-a-kind marbled paper.

Akerly teaches origami; crafting original books, journals and boxes; and demonstrates the art of marbling paper in her classes.

Marbling is created by placing a piece of strong paper in a tray of Irish moss seaweed, combined with water, acrylic paint and creatively mixed.

“It can be modern, bold or traditional. It can be something you didn’t intend it to be,” she said. “Uncovering your piece can be like watching fireworks on the Fourth of July.”

The end results are “drenched in color” and each piece is one-of-a-kind.

Akerly also uses her own marbled papers in her handmade boxes and books.

She has been able to meld her two passions into a successful business and share her them with others through her work and teaching.

“It’s all been a blast,” Akerly adds. “The key is to help people find their own bliss.”

Akerly’s work can be seen at The Clearing, located at 12171 Garrett Bay Road in Ellison Bay, as well as various art fairs in the area. For more information about her work and upcoming classes, visit