Tag Archives: apprenticeship

The Rhythm of Work

Juan and Javier start very early each morning. They have a contract to supply a Michelin-rated restaurant with white, deckle edged paper for their menus. When I arrive, the studio is in production mode.

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Javier has milled up a big batch of cotton rag pulp and periodically transfers it to a vat from which Juan can top up his main dipping tank as needed.

It’s a big order, so Juan is using a large screen and deckle that makes six sheets at once. Once he agitates the pulp to the proper level of suspension with a giant blender stick, he bends over the tank, and deftly, smoothly and quickly dips and pulls up.

Video clips here.
And here.
And here.

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Then, after letting the excess water drip away, he “couches” the wet sheets onto felts and release material – another very smooth move – then covers with a heavy dampened drying sheet and repeats the process. Again and again, until he has a post of wet sheets between two heavy PVC sheets.

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Juan shows me the most ergonomic way to help shuffle them over to his press. He had it custom-built at a machine and metal work shop down the street: super heavy-duty, set for >50 tons pressure. I learn how to operate it: power on, press down…wait for 50T pressure once water starts flowing out of the post of paper, then stop the press and power off.

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The post sits under pressure for a short spell, then Juan and Javier raise the press, slide the fresh post out onto a barrel, and peel apart the damp drying sheets with the fresh paper stuck to them from all the felts and interleaving sheets.

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They move the fresh paper up to a mezzanine level where Javier hangs them to dry. Then Juan moves all the felts and interleaving sheets back near the vat and starts another set.

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It’s noisy, wet, steady work that demands continuous concentration and patience. At the same time, it’s also meditative.

Music and DJ chat on Radio 5 occasionally break through the buzz, hum and sloshing. Juan and Javier make very few mistakes, and I can tell by the tiny tweezers by the vat, used occasionally to extract a hair, that their standard is perfection.

Arrasate-Mondragon -> Arantzazu

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On the last Sunday in September, Iñaki Extebeste, who Claire and I had met at the recent IUFRO conference in Banff, Alberta, Canada, picked me up in the morning. After a detour back to Arrasate aka Mondragon (attention Uprising Breads and CRS Workers’ Co-op alumnae!) to collect his partner Amaia Pavon, we headed deeper south in Basque Country to Arantzazu where there is a monastery, basilica, conference centre and hostel.

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They explained that this site has been very important in the history of Basque culture. For one thing, it was a safe place to meet. And if I understood correclty, it fostered a renaissance of art, language and identity. Think of Solentiname in Nicaragua.

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The combination of architecture, sculptures, murals, and paintings with the location on a precipice in a wooded, mountainous valley, creates a powerful impression. I found myself thinking of my late father-in-law, Zeljko Kujundzic. His kind of place.

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The Misterioa is a unique feature uphill from the basilica. Outside and inside are paintings of saints, heroes and martyrs, including Mandela, Gandhi and King. It takes effort to recognize them, because they’re painted on the back surface of glass in a gauzy manner. Reflection and mediation are required.

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We headed up past the site on a trail many hikers were descending, then we veered off into the woods to take a roundabout loop. Beautiful, and of course, very enjoyable to have the opportunity to walk among trees with a forest scientist!

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Eventually we arrived at a saddle in the mountains at the top where there’s a cider house/bar/restaurant. Iñaki & Amaia got us drinks and we sat down at a picnic table outside to share our various goodies. They had brought a delicious assortment of food, including; grilled peppers! What a wonderful lunch. They kindly drove me all the way back to Zuloaga Txiki before heading home themselves – a lot of driving. I am very grateful to Iñaki and Amaia for deepening my introduction to Basque culture.

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Orientation at Eskulan

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I arrived in Tolosa on Thursday evening after a night in Bilbao and a day/overnight in Deba.

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Deba is a short bus ride from Mutriku, where I stopped by Bar Cristina to thank Pedro for all the helpful advice he had emailed me before I started my trip. What a kind, modest and generous guy! If you are ever in Mutriku, please say hello – and patronize his establishment 😉

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In between the east-west Euskotren line and the north-south RENFE train line, I had a very enjoyable rendezvous with the painter Juan ‘Juankar’ Cardesin in the Herrera barrio before heading south.image

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On arrival, I walked from the Tolosa-Centro station and checked into the Zuloaga Txiki Aterpea hostel I visited last year. Very nice to see everyone again! On Friday morning I walked from the hostel ~1 km back to the train station and caught a train to Billabona-Zizurkil where Juan Barbé picked me up. It was great to reconnect.

At the Eskulan studio up the road in Zizurkil I met his associate, Javier Viñarás; he and Juan were in the middle of producing 100 sheets or so for a silkscreen artist, making 4 sheets at once: cotton rag with Euro cuttings mixed into the pulp.

Juan pulls & couches the sheets; Javier hangs all up to dry. All at a steady rhythm. My first day was really an orientation to the shop, helping here and there to shuffle the heavy stacks of wet sheets, and observe.

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We went over to the fibre & paper warehouse to sell a giant roll of cream coloured amate paper to a French-Basque photographer, Patxi Laskarai, who is doing a commission for a hotel. Then after touring Juan’s current stash of Kozo, raffia, gampi and other raw materials, checked out the bike Juan is loaning me. Perfect for the commute! Then we went for lunch with his wife, Carmen. She has done a lot of printmaking, and the monotype I saw was lovely.

After lunch we visited Juan’s friend Juantxo, who is a welding wizard. His shop was heaped with projects in progress, and the living space upstairs, with features like a 6′ high curved steel wall, was inspiring.

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We picked up the pulp boiling pot he was repairing (which needs to resist boiling lye) and checked on the current state of a custom Hollander Beater he’s fabricating for Juan, with curved blades offset from each other. A scarey looking machine, but inspiring!

One of our last stops was to buy a better pair of boots for me. Now I have gumboots with safety toes 😉 It was too dark by then to cycle back to the hostel, so Juan kindly drove me back, and showed me the best and safest route to bike or walk along the river and railroad.

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