Andrea, Salento’s paper maker

This article marks the beginning of the partnership between Italian Ways and Italian Stories, a website that gives readers access to workshops throughout Italy – telling their story, showcasing their excellent craftsmanship, and offering the opportunity to visit them.

I can smell the scent of laundry cleaned with hot water and ashes, which reminds me of my grandmother’s home. In fact, it’s the basic wash that Andrea uses to get impurities out of fiber in a huge vat, before using a special sieve to lift out a block that is about half a centimeter tall. To me, it’s magic. He says, “Look: it’s paper,” and goes on to blot and hang it to dry.

Andrea used to be a commercial artist, but now makes paper according to ancient methods and prints with typographic techniques everyone else has forgotten. He leads us to the courtyard that faces his small garden, and tells us about the papermaking process, step by step.

Entering his workshop is like going through a wormhole and diving into the past. Andrea’s beautiful home/laboratory has a vaulted ceiling and a myriad of objects bearing testimony to his passion for distant eras: a tall ladder that once belonged in a farm, some terracotta amphorae, various typography tools… Andrea is a dedicated craftsman and artist, and could spend hours or even days talking about every detail of his work. If it weren’t for the fireplace, which needs rekindling now and then, I would say time has stopped.

In this age of acceleration and shortcuts, the younger generations have abandoned many of the traditional crafts that endowed our cultural heritage with intelligence, hard work, and creativity. The old techniques and processes that used to be exclusive to certain guilds are now monuments to an identity in deep need of renovation. So hand-making paper is not obsolete at all: it fires up cognitive processes that spark exceptional chances to interact with history and the very current topic of recycling.

Andrea is an engraver and uses the paper he makes for his art, reviving techniques dating back to the 7th century. He uses Mediterranean botanical species to extract cellulose for his papers, as well as to give them color and scent. He takes care of the whole process, from growing Salento’s typical plants to making paper, from engraving, chalcographic or lead movable type printing to book finishing and binding.

In his workshop, time is quality and quality is satisfaction: that is the secret behind perfect papers with unique features, light and opacity, ideal for writing, watercolor painting, or printing that will last more than any industrial product.

Italian Stories suggests paying a visit to Andrea’s workshop as a chance to discover both the ancient Washi technique – invented in the Orient during the reign of the Han dynasty (3rd century), and mentioned in “The Travels of Marco Polo” – and Fabriano’s 13th-century medieval methods. Their fascinating itinerary is divided into four parallel moments, leading participants to create their own personal publication, notebook or notepad.

© Italian Stories

Photos by © Alessandro Sicuro

January 25, 2016