Thursday, 1 May 2014
Marbling in Florence by Mary Hoffman
Marbled paper is a rather generic term: there are examples that look far more like actual marble but it's the "peacock feather" design, as above, that always attracts me.
If you'd asked me, I would have said that the technique of marbling paper had been born in Florence, or at least Tuscany. But it turns out to have come from the country we now call Turkey and also Persia and India. And this year for the first time I watched some being made.
I was in Florence in April, teaching on Julie Foster Hedlund's Writer's Renaissance programme, which I've written about elsewhere. Julie had arranged to visit a shop called Alberto Cozzi, now run by Riccardo Luci, who was going to make some marbled paper on a Saturday afternoon. She kindly invited me to join her and we then watched a demonstration of a technique that goes back some four hundred years. Riccardo is the fourth generation in his family to carry it out and he does it expertly.
You start with a shallow tray filled with liquid; these days it is usually a size made from algae or some other form of seaweed - enough to make it a viscous carrier for the paint. Using a paintbrush to flick it, our marbler Riccardo dotted many colours on to the size.
Now he was ready for the paper.
It takes hours for the paper to dry and then it is stored flat in some narrow wooden shelves. I went back the next day to collect this piece, which had been made specially for Julie, and to buy a piece for myself. Each one is a unique work of art.
All the colours have to be swept out of the tray with another device to clean the size before another set can be applied. One mixture of size will produce up to twenty-five sheets of marbled paper.
The whole experience got me thinking about the traditional arts and crafts that have been handed down through the generations. I've recently been making things for my new granddaughter by knitting and crochet, both of which I must have learned how to do from my mother, though I have no recollections of any formal lessons. Knitting has a very long history, dating back to the first millennium in Egypt but crochet is a bit of a upstart, found only in the 19th century in Europe.
How every stitch - as with every blob of paint above - carries forward a little bit of history!
Do you have a story about traditional crafts handed down through the generations?
And here is a video of Riccardo doing the marbling, made by Julie Foster Hedlund.