Part of my apprenticeship at Eskulan involved investigation of plant fibres that none of us had ever made into paper. When I taught a class at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Managua, Nicaragua in 1986, we made small test batches of paper from gato tree seed fluff, breadfruit branches, pineapple leaves, coconut fibre, palm, plantation bark and several other sources abundant there. This got me interested in other potential fibres that could be made into paper, and inspired me to do a series of silkscreened plant papers in the early 1990s.
Last year I learned that Juan Barbé has been experimenting with various fibres for many years, documenting them in a marvelous hand bound book that notes each paper’s properties, the length of time the fibre boiled in lye, time in the beater, properties, etc., each with a sample attached. A life work at a professional level.
As a complementary business to Eskulan, he operates Paperlan, a paper and fibre supply. In addition to storing traditional paper fibres like kozo, gampi and abaca there, he stashes and dries new ones that he collects for use in trials when time permits.
So while my Curly Dock stalks were soaking, we started preparing two other plant fibres: Fresno (ash) and Adelfa (Nerium oleander). I had read about using inner bark for paper, but this was the first time I had worked with it from scratch. All very interesting to me, because my own previous plant paper making efforts had been crude by comparison, often using parts of the plants that contained little or no fibre. I had read about the use of inner bark with certain important species, so I was excited to be investigating these ones.
Juan had soaked a bundle of Fresno bark in water for a couple of days, not so much to loosen the outer bark as to
make it possible to flatten the curved, curled bark for scraping evenly.
It’s slow, finicky work, and we agreed that it’s the kind of meditative task to submit to, not to hurry, but to enjoy. Put on the radio or some music and start scraping.
I used a small, curved knife. Some segments were much easier to peel and scrape than others! I wished I had brought an Inuit ulu knife with me – scraping bark is not too much different from scraping hides.
Over the course of several days at Eskulan, I scraped all of the Fresno bark and a portion of the Adelfi, which wamore fragile and difficult to work with. Hand made papers, especially from plant fibres, are extremely labour intensive.
Short video clip: scraping Fresno bark.
At some point Juan will make them into paper and I’ll find out the results. Then we’ll each start our next tests…