At the end of my last day at Eskulan, Juan and I walked back to the flat in Billabona where he and his wife, Carmen Sevilla live. While Juan busied himself in the kitchen, Carmen, a printmaker and book designer, showed me around their place and the many pieces of art they have collected over the years. Some were her monoprints; all were pieces beautiful in their own right.
I had accompanied Juan earlier on his shopping expeditions, going from store to store to get all the necessary items. And I knew that an artisan like him who enjoys fishing, cycling, and patiently scraping bark would probably be an excellent chef. But the paella he served was absolutely outstanding – wow! What a wonderful gift to partake of, followed by a delicious fruit salad that Carmen prepared.
After this fine lunch, they brought out their collection of artists’ books. I knew that Juan sometimes leads artists’ book workshops, as well as papermaking workshops, so I was interested to see some examples. Several were one-of-a-kind books Carmen had made using letterpress on exquisite hand made papers or her own pulp painting. They were stitched in innovative and traditional ways.
Juan had been telling me how ingenious Carmen is with book design and bindery, and he was right. One of her pulp painting books evokes the coastline and crashing surf of Asturias where she is from; another conjures up forests. Anyone who has ever attempted pulp painting knows how much labour, skill and serendipity go into this process. She generously gave me a copy of a catalogue of her pastels published by the Caja de Asurias in 1997. Sparse, gorgeous work.
Semblanza de Gijón was one of Juan’s first commissions as a professional papermaker. It’s a boxed edition of 75 books printed with letterpress and etchings by Pelayo Ortega on his hand made paper. Traditional Spanish binding allows the reader to fully open the book without it cracking or breaking.
Juan showed me what he described as his “only book”: a leather-bound journal of stitched, hand made paper. Each page documents a fibre he has made into paper, with its characteristics, time boiling in lye, time in the Hollander beater, etc. Each has a small sample of the paper attached. Truly a one-of-a-kind document in the world – a live, ongoing and dimensional parallel to Lillian Bell’s classic “Plant Fibers for Papermaking”. A life’s work in progress.
All these are precious objects that would win the top prizes at international book fairs. Carmen and Juan, though incredibly modest, are masters of their arts and crafts, among a handful of such people in the world, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend time with them.