Friday, June 19, 2015

Giornale Adriatico-Mediterraneo VIII: The Writing on the Wall

photograph: Hallie Cohen
Francesco Proietti is amongst other things a paper maker in the town of Bevagna, in Umbria. He also makes bells which take three months to be produced if you are thinking of hanging one from the minaret of your house in order to call the kids home to dinner. He also raises peacocks. Proietti is a bear of a man with a big white beard whose lonely advocacy of a dying craft is further emphasized by a rough hewn appearance that includes a pair of missing front teeth. Paper first came to Amalfi and Sicily by way China and the Arab world in the year l000. The town of Fabriano, near Bologna, is still a center for the production of fine papers used by many artists. Just as St. Francis helped to usher in the Renaissance in the fifteen century, the advent of papermaking had an equivalently revolutionary impact four centuries earlier. Sure you had cuneiform writing on stone, but paper facilitated writing and hence the kind of ideas without which there might not have been a St. Francis in the first place. Yet how is paper actually made? Even back in medieval times it was sold by the ream as it today. The ream of paper you buy in Staples is produced in a slightly more automated process (to say the least) than the age old tradition which Proietti prosecutes in his studio. Cotton and linen rags are first collected and then mixed in with water and lye which helps to disinfect, loosen the fibers and remove the color. Then they are brought over to a water wheel which powers a wooden cam shaft, where they're pounded, immersed in another solution, removed in a mold and then into a press which yields deckle edge sheets that are then pressed again. Proietti is one of the attractions in Bevagna’s annual medieval festival, Il Circuito Culturale dei Mestieri Medievali, which occurs annually. And when you see all the care that goes into making one sheet of his paper, you begin to see the writing on the wall.

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