Chiang Mai paper trail

I love Chiang Mai. This is my last holiday in Asia for a while as we leave my job in China for gypsy life in Europe this June. I could’ve ticked another country off the list (Sri Lanka, Laos, Philippines) but as Ms 10 is Australia and I am travelling solo, I decided to return to Thailand,  Mostly for a hand papermaking workshop I had noticed on our previous fleeting visit to CM at Christmas. 

 
I joined a girl from Milwaukee who had come from a circus camp in Laos, to spend a sweaty, strenuous morning turning pulp into paper. HQ Papermaker is run by Kenji from Japan, who also fronts the sho in town. Kenji has many years experience in papermaking, although HQ seems to run as an export business, rather than a studio.  

skilled local – she can make over 80 sheets per day
 

Local staff create 80 plus sheets of paper a day (we were knackered after 6). The sheets we saw drying (above, behind my measly few) were destined for a soap company in California. I got the impression they did not receive too many people for workshops. The lady assisting us was lovely, but like a good Asian mama she was a little too quick to ‘help’ us.

All the same, it was a momentous occasion for me and, if I hadn’t been surrounded by strangers I think I might have cried. I haven’t made paper since primary school, when someone came to school so frequently to teach us that there was a permanent bathtub set up for the slurry. This method was different – Asian style involves spreading pulp across a single frame rather than the western method of dragging 2 frames through slurry. But…I could totally see myself doing this – setting up my workshop, practicing, experimenting, teaching others (I’m a little more excited about that last part than I had anticipated) 

This paper is called Saa paper, made from bark stripped frol mulberry trees. These days the bark is imported for nearby Laos. There aren’t enough Thais interested in the back-breaking task of stripping bark. 

my first batch of paper!
 

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Paper in the Monkey year

We’ve had a hectic month. Given the crazy flight costs and that I am potentially unemployed come July, I decided to stay closer to home for out Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) holiday, and had thought we might do a short trip to Seoul to explore their hanji paper in the middle. Fortunately I didn’t book any flights, as we both came down with a shocking flu. One of the worst I can remember. We were bedridden for 4 days straight, which the locals celebrated by releasing tones of fireworks, from around 6am until 10 at night. When we finally recovered we were able to stagger into the city for a couple nights in fancy hotels, but our plans of heading to Korea faded.

Around the same time I’ve received disheartening responses from every university in Australia where I’d hoped to enrol in a research degree. Tasmania never replied, despite multiple attempts. CDU sent me a copy/paste of their website, telling me to identify a supervisor, which would be fine if they put any identifying information about staff online! Not even an email address…

University of Newcastle were the most promising, and I received a lot of advice and direction, AND they have an onsite paper mill.  However the artistic lecturer I found was not qualified to be sole supervisor, and although half a dozen others expressed interest in the project, none of them felt qualified to take me on as a candidate. The art lecturer also indicated that I should gain more practical experience, and I feel this may have influenced the rejections. He is right, so I have decided I should focus on this for now, and come back to the research at a later date.

The problem is, I live in a backwater in China. I can’t find supplies here to create a home studio. I have the blender and frames, felt and etceteras, but cannot find the mesh. Intensely frustrating. So far the onlmy practical experience I’ve had were two goes at elephant poo paper parks in Thalamd. It was fantastic, and I’m so desperate to get started on making all my mistakes so I can be closer to being an expert craftsman, it kills me! I’m hoping the upcoming Easter break will provide an opportunity. I’m looking at washi paper in Japan, hanji in Korea, Thailamd again, or visiting the Miao or Dai ethnic groups in south China.

PhD in Paper – downgraded

Initially the plan was to head straight to Germany where they let anyone study for free (fantastiche!), but I’m so excited about this research, I want to start yesterday!  I don’t want to wait until September. Also, after hours – days – months of searching, it seems the courses offered in Germany are rather inflexible, and nothing aligns with what I have in mind.

Frustrated, I started searching Australian unis, and was surprised to find lots of options. Also, Aussie unis start NOW, and (who knew?) research degrees are currently government funded. If I did enrol in Australia, we could travel back to Oz when we finish in China at the end of June. Ms 10 would be ecstatic to spend a month or so with family, which means I could travel to my uni, meet my supervisor and (hopefully) get some practical experience and advice in their studios.

After months of sifting the interwebs and emailing prospective supervisors, I think I have 3 possibles:

  1. University of Newcastle (NSW) – MPhil in Fine Art
    • Pros: one of their Fine Arts lecturers (a textile artist with experience working with paper) is keen, but has explained I will need a second supervisor in the social work or humanities areas. They have a paper mill on campus (!!!). Newcastle seems to have a vibrant arts/crafts scene, and it’s closest to home.
    • Cons: none, really. I guess it just doesn’t have an added bonus element like the other two locations.
  2. UTas (Tasmania) – Master of Fine Arts
    • Pros: Tassie is renowned for commercial papermills, which could form part of my research. There’s also a vibrant arts scene. And it’s the home of Creative Paper Tasmania  – making paper from sheep poo AND wombat poo.Climate is a little similar to Scotland too, so could be some tips. Plus I just love Tassie..
    • Cons: it’s a long way from Queensland, but that’s actually a plus! I think only Con is that they won’t reply to me. I’ve emailed course coordinators, research units AND individual lecturers and had no reply.
  3. CDU (Darwin) – Master by Research (Visual Arts and Crafts)
    • Pros: I came across CDU through the work of Winsome Jobling who has links to  Indigenous Australians and papermaking. This is intriguing, and could be an interesting sideline.  I have friends in Darwin from my stint as a Teacher Librarian up there, and it would be great to catch up with them.
    • Cons: perhaps not as well-recognised as the other universities. Actually, for this reason I thought CDU would be the least competitive, yet they have been the hardest nut to crack so far. I STILL haven’t got any leads on an actual lecturer.

It’s hard to draw comparisons when I haven’t had any replies from lecturers at UTas or CDU, but perhaps that is a sign in itself? It is summer in Australia, so many staff are still on holidays. Not sure whether to hold out or pursue Newcastle…except for the random location, they do have the best course offering. And after looking through the work of Brett (the  Fine Arts lecturer), he seems to be active in the arts / crafts industry. This is a little intimidating, as the art/craft element is not my strength, but at the same time he will hopefully be a lot of help!

*Update* had an email back from a 2nd supervisor at Newcastle this morning. He sounds keen, so it might be the way to go.

Wombat poo in Tasmania

So, UTas is on my list for potential Masters by Research. And there are a few uncanny little ways in which this would be a very fitting location:

  • I’ve always been drawn to Tassie. It’s cold and it’s an island – just like the parts of Scotland I love.
  • A few years ago I discovered my maternal grandmother was born in Launceston, as was my great-grandmother, Eileen Littlejohn.
  • I carried Eileen’s leather-bound KJV around Europe, destroying the cover in the process. That drew me to bookbinding, and I found a leather artist in Tasmania that was a dream life goal of mine just before I became a librarian.
  • Again, before I was a librarian – I travelled to Tasmania for a library job interview in Burnie. We stayed in a grotty old hotel, and I managed to squeeze Matilda into a lovely childcare for a day while I went off to be grilled by a panel of 4 or 5 beige-dressed, dour looking council staff, for what I think was a 12-hour-a-week library assistant role in Strahan – a sort of town from where you can quite possibly see the end of the earth.
  • While researching sheep poo paper, I came across Creative Paper Tasmania, who hit the headlines by making paper out of wombat poo. They’ve also been mentioned by famous paper artist, Helen Heibert. Turns out, when we were in Burnie for that job interview, we stumbled upon the visitor centre. The exhibition was an amazing paper display – life sized paper mâché people and all sorts. I remember it gripped my soul – I was possessed with the idea that I would get the  Strahan job, work part-time and become a paper artist, maybe even a book-binder.
  • Burnie is fascinating because hand papermaking began there as a “work for the dole” project, in part to combat the closure of commercial papermills…which links to my research!
paper burnie tas
Discover Burnie

I didn’t get the job in Strahan. Seems funny now. I wonder who did? Nobody I’ve ever met in Library land. They took months to get back to me as well – months and months to the point of ridiculousness.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

I’m torn by indecision about whether to commence a new blog for my studies in paper, or mesh it with my original. This indecision (perfectionist much?), has been a great tool for procrastinating! So I shall begin, and to hell with it.

I am a librarian who has been dreaming of running away to a remote island for over a decade. Part of the dream involves becoming a wildly (or even moderately) successful writer or artist, so I am able to spend my days pottering around my garden, or in my studio, or down the Co-op chatting to the old folks.

This is the hitch. If I’m a writer, I don’t know it yet. And an artist? Hilarious!

But the idea of it keeps nipping away. And every day I get a little bit older…

A few months ago, amid planning for Christmas holidays in Thailand, I stumbled across Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park.

So now, I am a librarian who is writing a research proposal and learning how to make paper by hand. And it is thrilling.

This blog is going to check in on my progress from time to time. And in the tough times, when it seems impossible, it is going to nip at my heels to keep moving.

baibheil

P.S. I totally started a whole other blog and posted this over there, then changed my mind and dragged it bag here…hopeless!

A blank page

The other day somebody mentioned we might visit a place near Chiang Mai that makes elephant poo paper. Since then, my mind has been on fire with a new dream. I can’t sleep for thinking about:

  • paper
  • books
  • the history of paper and the evolution of the book
  • traditional papermaking
  • sustainable practice
  • cottage industries
  • regional variations: China, South-east Asia, Middle East, Europe
  • papermaking – science, technology, engineering; sustainability; environment; economics;
  • papermaking – art and design
  • humanity’s relationship with the book/narrative/story/words
  • papermaking – art therapy, social enterprise, environment

I have 7 months left in China to uncover the secrets of traditional Chinese papermaking. I have discovered most of it happens in the south of China, such as Anhui province. As we are north – closer to Beijing than Shanghai – I have been searching for bullet trains and cheap flights that might take me to villages where paper is still made by hand. So far it is proving elusive. There are plenty of articles, but not many tours. Yunnan province is another area where the Miao minority are known for making paper, and I have discovered a tour company that sounds very cool, so am investigating.

drying_the_paper
Paper Tigers – Yunnan

Papermaking is one of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China. Xuan paper, found in Jing province (Jingxian) has been listed by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage. The World Bank are supporting villages in south China to continue their traditional papermaking (among other things).

Am obsessed.

PhD in Paper

Not joking. After a week of burrowing down the papermaking rabbit hole, this is where I have surfaced. Some sort of study was always on the cards for August next year, due to the move to Germany (English language jobs few and far between, free tuition, etc etc), but now I have fallen down the papermaking rabbit hole, the search for a possible postgrad course has become quite frantic.

Aaaaaaaand….nothing.

The course structure in Germany appears to be quite inflexible in comparison to Australia. I want to gain skills in the craft of papermaking, study the science behind it, learn sustainable techniques, as well as general themes in sustainability, and I also want to throw in a little element of people and place/rural development/social enterprise…

The lack of coursework options means I need to start looking at research degrees. Eek.

 

 

Goats

goat-in-austria-198455_640
Majestic beast

Growing up on a farm we had a cacophony of animals. These were purchased by my Dad with no apparent thought at Saturday morning clearing sales, or the Wednesday midweek livestock sales (a rare school holiday treat involved following Dad around the slippery, slurry-covered yards, climbing the rails to inspect the beasts and begging him to take home a poddy calf. At one sale I saw a calf with both eyes pecked out by crows or magpies).
The goats were my favourite animal in this random assortment. Cute, intelligent, wildly eccentric. I’ve no idea how they ended up at our farm, but we had almost a dozen of them, including a billy goat and a nanny goat. Dad tried unsuccessfully to have us drink goat milk for a while, but gave up when Mum cracked it because she couldn’t fit anything in the freezer for all the bottles of frozen milk. Anyway, I’ve been digging around in my consciousness trying to uncover which skills (if any) I possess that could be put to use in a business sense. And I’ve just remembered a wild dream I had while traveling in Tasmania about 5 or 6 years ago – hand made paper. This dream is so deliriously exciting to me that I had suppressed it deep, but now it has resurfaced I am possessed. I remember we had a parent who set up a mini paper making mill at my primary school, and how obsessed I was.

Hello
Goat dreaming

In the meantime, some other folk who are living my paper making dream:

Paper-making by hand (I feel I am going to spend a lot of time at this blog)

And what do goats have to do with any of this?? A company closer to the dream of my heart: Creative Paper Wales