Making Esparto Grass Paper
This article discusses the embracing of art projects, whether as an artist or not, through making paper from Esparto, a perennial grass found in North Western Africa and the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
Originally published on 30 Dec 2016 4:48 pm | View here
‘bi-anonimous’ is a small art collective based in Spain who work within nature with themes of love and sharing.
Esparto grass is a perennial grass of North Western Africa and the Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Hardy, and once part of a thriving industry overtaken by plastic, this piece touches on things that we might be losing sight of and how beautiful and useful things can be created from what appears to be barren scrub.
Have you ever considered doing something just to play? Just to enjoy the process? I often do. It’s playtime!
Gently engaging in free-flow with an intention but without any particular expectation regarding the result. Just allowing potential possibilities to unfold. So here’s the genesis of a project idea, preparing paper from the sunlight of Southern Spain – made with a friend of mine (a fabulous artist by the way!).
What Got Me Interested?
I’ve never created paper from scratch so that was already a reason to get very motivated, and facing the unknown. Furthermore, through the process, I had the chance to meet all sorts of anonymous people that added their passion and love to each different stage of the project.
Handmade paper process (skip if not interested in technical info)
Esparto grass’ Latin name is Stipa Tenacissima, which provides an idea of the intrinsic tenacity implied. The grass was used as a raw material. It is a very sturdy plant and was traditionally used for crafts; such as cords, basketry and espardilles (sandals) before plastic and programmed obsolescence came to be the norm – see film below.
Film (1946) Pre-Plastics Industry: Esparto Grass Process
Esparto de España Duración: 14 min. Tipo: Documental Género: Documental Temática: Agricultura Procedencia: Videoteca MAGRAMA Año de producción: 1946
After harvesting by hand, the stalks were plunged into water and left for 40 days under the sun. The water becomes quite toxic, and the smell is anything but nice. After sun drying, the stalks had to be smashed to start breaking the fibres. This part of the process was done in Southern Spain.
The semi-processed Esparto grass then travelled to Northern Spain, where there’s a museum paper mill, which is still working. The team that runs it were incredibly welcoming and helpful and became deeply involved and committed. The stalks had to be cut 3-4cm long. 22kg were needed requiring 13,000 cuts by hand!
The alkaline cooking was then done using clean water and soda ash for about two hours. At this point, the smell became even stronger. The grass then required abundant rinsing before using what is called a Hollander Beater to mix the Esparto fibres into an alpha paste.
In order to make the sheets, a wooden frame with a stainless steel screen was used and filled with the paper pulp; one by one each individual hand made sheet was made. The paper became the colour of the sun that made the esparto grow wild. So, paper of sunlight of the Southern Spain materialised.
For more on the paper mill see, Capellades Paper Mill Museum
I used the esparto paper to make many tiny origami butterflies with pliers and lots of patience. Mindfulness was essential at this stage. A volitional of loving-kindness feeling permeated each and every single fold.
One of the most rewarding things done was sending samples of the paper made into little butterflies to all the persons who participated in the process, a thank you gift to show how the idea materialised because they were involved.
Return To Origin
After sharing the paper with the people who made it possible with their best smile (and I think it shows in the paper- I even believe that paper might be sensitive too), giving the paper back to the plant made sense to me. Kind of closing the circle. It also made sense to do it with people I love.
So an origami workshop was done with children on the spot where the Esparto grass grew wild. The tiny butterflies were pierced and threaded into the esparto stalks Children hands were guided by their mother’s hands while their father hands took photos.
The end result is images of anonymous hands (representing all the anonymous hands involved in the process), while giving the paper back to its origins. Every single pixel radiates love and the butterflies remain integrated in the landscape, barely visible unless close attention is paid. No harm was done.
How I Feel
I feel grateful for all the love, kindness and smiles produced and received by each and everyone involved in the project. Not grasping the material and let it go without attachment left space for the new to come in unexpected ways and surprise me.
So, if you feel like, pick up an idea and jump into NowHere. I encourage you to make such a journey. Play and you might discover beauty where least expected.
Written by ACB