We travel far and wide to bring you insights into the latest developments in manufacturing techniques. This time, we trekked all the way into the Himalayas to bring you one of the most ancient ones, relying only on local production, manual labor and artisan skill. Alongside Bhutan's internationally applauded concept of Gross National Happiness, the jaw-dropping landscapes, and the plethora of Buddhist sights, the country takes a distinct pride in its cultural heritage in arts and crafts, and along with painting, weaving and woodwork, paper making is one of them. While young people here as much as anywhere stare at their smart devices and wear the latest candy-colored headphones, keeping old wisdom alive and kicking is one of the pillars of the country's master plan for happiness, and this is visible in architecture, clothing and products for everyday life.
In 1990, the Ministry of Trade and Industry established the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory (Jungshi meaning natural) in Bhutan's capital Thimphu, to expand the old domestic skill for commercial purposes, and thus give the ancient art a relevance in the modern world. Today, they export their products to the US, Japan, Europe, India and Nepal. We were invited to get a closer look at all the steps involved in the manufacturing process, from raw material to finished product.
The paper made here is based on unique materials of the Himalaya, the bark of the The Daphne Papyri, which can be found at altitudes of 3,000 feet and above, the bark of the Edgeworthia Papyri, plus various additional ingredients like flowers and leaves (for example from the ubiquitous chili and hemp plants), to add textures and patterns.
As a first step, the bark is soaked in water and boiled, then washed and cleaned to sort the good fibers from the bad.
Next, the material is pounded into a pulp, and mixed with water and vegetable starch made from Hibiscus plant roots.
From this mixture, a thin layer of the pulp is filtered out, using a wooden frame and a bamboo screen which is elegantly shaken in a rhythmic fashion to spread out the material.
The pulp sheets are pressed to squeeze out excessive water, and every single sheet is then spread onto a smooth surface to dry.
The finished paper is further processed, printed and painted on for products like journals, envelopes, paper bags, and lamp shades, amongst others.
Each item is of course unique, and my new sketchbook appears to turn even my hastiest scribbles into a work of art. Sometimes, it seems, the simplest processes bear the most beautiful results.