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Amate: Surviving Tradition of Ancient Mexico September 22 2016

Papel Amate (or amatyl) although it comes in sheets, is technically not formed the same way paper is. It is referred to as "bark cloth", "paper cloth" and as "paper", depending on who you talk to. The most significant fact is that the oldest codex known was made from amate in the pre-columbian era. The fibers are are scraped, cooked and beaten very much like you would to hand-make a piece of paper, even though the pulp is not poured into slurry and sheets are not pulled through a screen. Instead fibers are pounded together with a stone; creating an irregular, luscious sheet. Papel Amate has been made for centuries by the Otomí Indians in the states of Puebla and Vera Cruz in Mexico. Traditional fibers still used today are the outer bark of the ficus tree and the inner bark of the mulberry bush.

ADVENTURES IN PAPERMAKING guest blog by Heather Matthew. Heather is a paper artist living in New South Wales, Australia. A longer version of Heather's blog was first re-posted on the PaperSlurry blog.

A hot afternoon in the clear mountains of central Mexico. I was off to visit the home studio of amate paper artist Julio Chichicaxtle on an investigation into traditional Mayan papermaking techniques. I had read about amate paper, the bark paper on which the Mayan codices was written and encountered Julio at the Feria Maestros del Arte in November 2011.

At his invitation, my husband and I were to visit his studio before the cold mountain mists rolled in and he stopped paper production until spring. After a series of memorable bus journeys from Mexico City to Tulancingo, and from there on a rattling old locale bus…we arrived at San Pablito via taxi on a crowded market morning. The taxi dropped us off with our backpacks to walk the length of the crowd selling vegetables and clothes. No one spoke English, and we didn’t know Spanish (let alone the local dialect) but were confident we would find the big yellow house where our host Julio lived.

After a ride in a policeman’s car up a hill to a tourist paper and jewelry shop, then a walk down to a small gallery, it was Julio’s father-in law who eventually led the way to Julio’s flat roofed house. He had been waiting for us, and while tortillas were cooking on the traditional oven, he led us upstairs to his papel amate studio, the rooftop terrace where he pounds and weaves bark fibre to make his extraordinary paper paintings.

amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Bucket of amate bark soaking
amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Laying out amate fibers
amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Julio weaving strands of amate fiber together
amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Julio Chichicaxtle pounding the amate fibers
amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Julio's peeling off the pounded amate artwork
amate, kozo, papel amate, Heather Matthew, papermaker Close up of Julio's amate artwork
All photos provided by papermaker Heather Matthew.

Neutral colors of 3 styles of Amate now stocked at Paper Connection. Liso (plain), perferado (grid), and circular (overlapping circles). Please email us for more details: contactus@paperconnection.com


Clean Paper: Scenes from May Babcock's Papermaking Classes October 17 2013

Our latest paperwoman, Ms. May Babcock, certainly has been busy these days. She has now become a regular fixture at Providence's AS220, teaching papermaking. This long overdue class has been filled to capacity, with eager paper newbies ready to get their hands wet and minds inspired by May's expertise. Using sustainable fibers, May implements traditional yet easy-for-the-beginner papermaking with good, old-fashioned recycling. CLEAN, green PAPER: story by a guest paper-blogger. At a recent demonstration, held at Jean Winslow's studio in Lowell, Massachusetts, May helped the eager crowd to turn to invasive species as a source of fiber for papermaking. Think codium, an invasive seaweed that is in plentiful supply along our beautiful Atlantic coast. The goopy water that May said resembled "salsa verde", (we were thinking a thick miso broth with extra wakame too), soon had many hands agitating the shredded seaweed to equally balance its own density in the water. Then with one swift scoop at a 45 degree angle, we were all shuffling our seaweed across a small screen. Following May's instructions of "opening and closing a door", we removed our newly-formed sheet on pieces of felt and pelon, with a hinge-like move that closed the screen down on the felt, and opened it up again using the same side of the deckle from which we placed it down. After rolling and squeezing the sheet, we then proudly dried it on a sheet of plexiglass. So we were beginners, but looked with awe as we formed our papers and watched them dry. As we brought our sheets home, we were excited to figure out how we would use this handmade sheet. My codium paper? Safely nestled on my bookshelf along with jars of collected shells from southern Rhode Island beaches...so I caved in to the nautical theme. At least it's with the hope of making some space for native seaweed species along Cape Cod, one sheet at a time. See more of May's papermaking adventures with local local fibers at May Babcock's blog.