Even though the door was propped open, the air in the crowded store felt thick and musty. Curious about the bright colors I had seen through the store window from the street, I had wandered in to find a small room packed to the roof with products made completely out of handmade paper. High shelves were piled with disorganized stacks of books, envelopes, paper string and fans. Small kites and colorful lanterns hung from the ceiling, while an entire wall was hung with rows of huge sheets of paper that looked like bolts of fabric. I had never seen anything like it.
After about 20 minutes of indecision, I selected a piece from the paper wall that had been hand painted. I almost couldn’t find the cash register, as it was hidden behind an intricately painted paper umbrella.
After handing him my selection, the cashier expertly rolled my purchase up, wrapping it with (of course) a thin sheet of paper and handed me a brochure called “A Paper’s History” with a bow and a smile.
According to the brochure, the tradition of paper making began in Egypt around 3,000 BC with the use of marsh grass called Cyperous Papyrus to make papyrus. This form of paper was used by Egyptians, Romans and Greeks to write their religious, historical and artistic texts.
T’sai Lun from China is credited with being the inventor of paper (in 105 AD) as we know it today. He placed fibers from plants in a vat and then submerged screens into the mixture. When the fibers dried, they stuck together on the screen creating a strong, smooth surface that could be written on.
In the modern world, with mass production being cheaper and more efficient, the art of paper-making is all but disappearing in the west.
As I experienced however, it has managed to live on as an art form in parts of Asia, where it is thought that the soft texture and natural feeling of the paper echos the warm heart of the paper maker.