Imadate Papermaking Village, by Gail Rieke

Steve here: I recently co-led a travel journaling tour of Japan with Santa Fe, New Mexico-based artist and educator, Gail Rieke. Gail, please tell us about our workshops in Imadate.

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Gail Rieke: Our group had the great privilege of participating in two workshops in Imadate Papermaking Village! Instructed by residents of this 1600-year old center for paper arts, we tried our hand at making both the renowned Echizen-style paper and contemporary poured pulp collaged papers.

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Our entire day was spent in facilities located in and around Washi no Sato Dori, a cobblestone promenade that meanders through the area that preserves Imadate’s papermaking history. Our hands-on visit was actually the fulfillment of a dream I’d held since the 1960’s… to make sheets of Japanese paper in the traditional manner. Our first stop was Udatsu Washi Cooperative, where papermakers demonstrated for us the entire process from start to finish. The plant fibers were stripped, processed, pounded and suspended in large vats filled with water and a viscous plant material called neri, which disperses the fiber evenly and keeps it in solution.

Our teacher, Yamada-san, showed us how to place our hands on the horizontal bars of the deckle, to dip into the pulp solution, and finally to shake gently between dipping so the fibers mesh together creating a strong interlocked paper surface. We then learned to lift the screen from the deckle, rotate it and gently smooth our wet sheet of paper onto the stack that our friends had made.

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Yamada-san has been a papermaker for many years. After hours she is an accomplished folk singer and dancer. During instruction, she soothed our nervousness by cracking jokes. At the end of the workshop, she sang the papermakers’ song of her village and demonstrated how the papermaking movements we had just learned were incorporated into traditional dance. We were deeply touched.

After lunch, we went to Rina Aoki-san’s studio. Rina brings a youthful energy to the Jiyomon Paper Studio where she has been working since 2000. Her desire to share the wonders of Echizen washi with people of other cultures makes her an enthusiastic teacher. She demonstrated the contemporary method of poured pulp paper and then enabled us to pour our own sheets using buckets of different colored pulp and a variety of materials that we could embed into our papers. She patiently answered question after question and gave us the freedom to create in ways that were original and unique. Our wet papers were set in the sun to dry on their deckle frames.

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As many of our members were artists, we reveled in nearby stores stocked with paper goods of all colors, textures and sizes. We also increased our knowledge of this ancient craft by visiting the Echizen Washi Museum. Finally, in the fading light, I walked past lovely old traditional-style houses on my way to the Okamoto Otaki Papermaker’s shrine, dedicated to the Goddess of Paper and nestled in a dense forest of cedars. The delicate carvings and weathered patina of the building made it one of the most exquisite Shinto shrines I have seen in Japan. Upon entering, I came upon a shrine custodian burning Crytomeria cedar twigs and branches just inside the gate. The aromatic incense-like smoke seemed to perfectly express my thanks for this unparalleled experience.

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Gail Rieke is a collage, assemblage and installation artist, photographer, educator and blogger, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See Gail’s website at http://www.riekestudios.com/