The word resilience comes to mind while making papers from plants. Heronswood Gardens is located on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State. It is owned and operated by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Heronswood is a wonderful place to contemplate the meaning of resilience.
In 2019 Kara Horton and I received a grant from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Community Awards Program to teach weavers and artists from the Port Gamble S’Klallam community how to utilize their weaving scraps to make paper. Our ultimate goal was to work together to bring an awareness of yet another gift of plants – the cellulose fibers contained in certain plants’ stems, leaves, or inner bark.
As has happened for so many others who planned programs and workshops, we missed our opportunity to teach in 2020 because of Covid-19 lockdowns. Fortunately where I live, many people have recieved their vaccinations thanks to the generosity of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Nation, who are known as “The Strong People”, and the Suquamish Nation, who are known as “The People of the Clear Salt Water”. These Sovereign Nations made vaccines available to those outside of their own communities at a time of great need.
Because most everyone in this community has been vaccinated and rapid testing is available at the new Port Gamble S’Klallam Health Clinic, Kara and I got the go-ahead to teach the workshop this September 2021.
So on the first rainy morning we’ve had in a long time, Kara and I packed each of our vehicles full – with blenders, crockpots, plant pulps, molds, examples, buckets, hoses, drying cloths, and lots of food. And outside the Garden Shed in a covered area at Heronswood Gardens, we met the most wonderful group of artists and educators – who were ready to learn!
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi
Kara and I were among elders, master basket makers, Coast Salish wool weavers, Raven’s Tail weavers, bead-jewelry makers, and cultural educators. We were humbled by the wealth of talent and experience represented.
Wasps and other creatures have always made paper, but to be clear, the Port Gamble S’Klallam People did NOT have a tradition of paper making. Like every other Oral culture, that every person living today has descended from, Oral cultures did not need paper.
But human people have always needed to make “marks” to leave information, so many interesting ways have been devised to do this over thousands of years of human existence. From painted hand-prints and pictographs on cave walls, to runes and petroglyphs carved in stone, Oral cultures devised ways to pass on vital information about how to live in a place over time. Information is passed along through relationships of family and community, through teaching and mentoring, and through the practice of cultural art forms.
Where Kara and I live, in the Pacific Northwest of North America, information was woven into baskets, carved into house posts and canoes, and spun into yarns for the designs in blankets. All the associated tools and teachings that come with these fine art forms, as well as many other traditional cultural practices – medicine, hunting, fishing, food preparation, food storage, navigation, rights of passage, spirituality, governing, protocols for how to live together in a highly complex civilization – all the material technologies and cultural practices were vehicles for the transfer of information in the Oral cultures that have existed here for over 10,000 years, without ever needing to invent paper.
So when a new technological break-through was developed in China, about 2,000 years ago – shredding silk and plant fibers; cooking, beating or rotting them; mixing them together in a big vat with water; molding the fibers in a new way onto a support that allows the water to drain; drying the newly formed sheet – this new technology yielded a material with an excellent surface for storing information.
Clay or Bamboo tablets, Papyrus laminations, Parchment from cow, goat or sheep hides, Vellum from lamb or calf skins – these all came to be less used over time as this new technology crept from Eastern Civilizations towards the Western World.
So here we are, because we are resilient. And we all know that learning, adapting, and being open to relatively new ideas, like paper making, can be quite fun!
These are some glimpses from two-days of creative people learning from each other and enjoying the process. Images were taken by Kara Horton and myself.
I wish we thought to get a group shot before Melissa and her granddaughter had to leave, but here are the rest of us at the end of a wonderful weekend of learning together.
Like many other art forms, making paper is a transformative process. We are learning to recognize that plants have fibers which help to give structure to some plants, or that transport the food, minerals and the water in other types of plants and trees.
We are learning that the scraps from our basket making, and the plants that grow around us, and even some of the materials we put into our composts, can be used to make interesting papers if we take the time to isolate the cellulose fibers through cooking.
We’ve learned that paper can be made from plants without the use of chemicals, even though most books suggest using them.
We are learning that humble plant fibers can be broken down, beaten, and then put back together in a beautiful way, making something useful and beautiful. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations!
“We made the world we are living in, and we have to make it over.” James Baldwin
How about we keep on learning together, and let’s make our lives and our world more resilient!
Thank you for listening.