Carriage House Paper

Our curriculum in Technology and Structure of Works of Art includes multiple field trips to see demonstrations of the techniques we are learning about in class. These visits also allow us to try our hands at the process!

Our first field trip for our Tech and Structure course was a visit to the Carriage House Paper Mill in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. Art history students in Professor Ellis’ course, Technical Connoisseurship of Works on Paper, also joined us for the fun.

The name for the mill, co-founder Donna Koretsky explained, comes from the paper company’s original location—in an old rented carriage house where she and her mother, Elaine, begin their paper-making experimentations.

Today, the facility in Brooklyn, New York, is a showroom for their handmade paper, papermaking supplies, and equipment. Workshops are also offered on all aspects of papermaking and paper art.

The showroom’s function as an educational facility is greatly enhanced by the presence of the International Paper Museum. This museum was originally part of the Research Institute of Paper History and Technology, founded in 1995 by Elaine Koretsky. It houses a remarkable collection of books, paintings and other curiosities—historical and contemporary—on handmade paper substrates.

The International Paper Museum

This combination of the Museum and the showroom allows the visitor to behold a huge range of papermaking processes and technologies from around the world.

When we arrived at the paper house, We were greeted by Donna who gave us a tour of the International Paper Museum and described the papermaking processes represented therein.

Having done field research in papermaking techniques in Japan, Korea, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and throughout Europe, Donna is a wealth of knowledge on the subject. The exhibition currently on display is titled “Paper Curiosities Many of the objects on display were collected during hers and her parents’ expeditions to Asia.

This is the third exhibition at the Museum; and, instead of merely tracing the origins of the making, uses, and history of paper, it highlights artifacts that are rather unique in the history of the craft, whether it be the fiber used, the final use, or the work involved in making the paper. There, we saw a paper made from ants, rocks and silk cocoons.

They also show Burmese “fire balloons.” The paper is sewn into animal shapes, filled with hot air, sent up to the sky in honor of Buddah, and exploded with the fireworks that were loaded into its attached basket.

A Burmese fire baloon.

Also on display is this paper made painstakingly from bamboo fiber with incredibly long preparation times. The paper is so specialized that the common person will never see this paper or know of its existence.

The wall text provided describes this incredible process:

This special bamboo paper is made for the process of beating bold into gold leaf. In Burma, the thin strips of gold are beaten by hand until they become so thin that the gold becomes translucent. The fold is beaten on a very strong substrate, which is the bamboo paper. A sandwich of paper, gold, paper, gold, etc. is made covered in deer skin, and then pounded with a 9 pound hammer for hours.

The lengthy and curious process of making the bamboo paper begins with retting the bamboo strips in lime for 3-6 years! Next it is boiled for 24 hours! Then it is beaten for 15 days! After a few more steps, the paper is finally made and it takes 20 minutes to make one sheet. The sheet is next cut into small squares, and then burnished with pointed sticks on a convex metal plate until the paper becomes translucent. This steps takes place underground. Finally the paper is sent to the goldbeating house where a thin piece of gold is placed on each sheet until a packet is made of about 600 sheets of paper interleaved with gold. Next it is beaten into gold leaf.

The only people that ever see this truly incredible paper are the people that work in the goldbeating house!

Also featured were live silkworms. Donna is attempting “train” them to make paper, as she explains Chinese archaeologists have found that silk was the original fiber used in early Chinese papermaking.

Silk worm cocoons and a toilet paper roll on which they lay their eggs.

Here is a video of Donna explaining her process and describing the silk worms she handles.

The resulting silk worm art.

This process is similar to that used by the Dong Nationality people in China to produce silk felt (top in photo). The specimen on display was collected by Elaine Koretsky in Shiqing village, Zha Shin town, Guizhou Province, China 1995. When the silk cocoons seemed ready to extrude their silk, they would be confined on a board where they crawled around, exuding the silk thread, which matted together and formed a piece of felt.

Also on display is silk paper (bottom in photo): Instead of being produced directly from the worm, it is made from 100% silk fabric, cut into small pieces and beaten in a Hollander beater.

Silk felt (top) and silk paper (bottom).

In the second part of our Carriage House Experience, the Art Director of Carriage House Paper, Shannon Brock, gave us a demonstration of the European wove-papermaking technique. Although the fiber she was to use was already beaten, Shannon showed us the Hollander beater that would be used to process smaller batches of stock. Carriage House Paper uses flax, cotton, denim, bamboo, and Japanese bast fibers that are colored with archival, light-fast pigments. My classmates and I got to throw our own sheets using a leftover black abacá (Musa textilis, Manila banana or Manila hemp) fiber.

We watched Shannon couche and press the paper. Once they were dry we got to take our sheets home!

Visit our Vimeo account to see video of Shannon’s wonderful presentation and of us papermaking!

Other links:

Carriage House Paper

Shannon’s paper fiber art

Papermaking History Videos

Vimeo :: IFA-CC


~Kate Brugioni





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