Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.
Last summer I worked at Cave Paper in Minneapolis, MN. The mill opened in 1994 in the lower levels of an old warehouse near the banks of the Mississippi and ‘Cavelike’ is truly its best descriptor. You descend into the windowless workspace on a freight elevator, emerging in a network of stony rooms where the drying paper hangs from the ceiling like bats.
The mill is the work of Amanda Degener and Bridget O’Malley and they’ve mentored countless interns in the lifetime of their business. Although they have papers that use cotton, their main fiber source is flax. The flax comes with the straw already removed and they process it in a 25-lb Hollander beater. The fiber goes in vats where moulds and deckles, felts and presses (and of course the labor of the papermakers) turn it into sheets upon sheet of paper.
After the paper dries the real work begins. Cave papers are known for their beautiful coloring, much of which comes from natural indigo, walnut and persimmon dyeing. Labor intensive and time-consuming, some of the colors need several coats with each coat requiring an overnight drying period. Others use gelatin coating to act as a resist, followed by dipping the paper in pigments, creating a crackle effect.
Fine artists and bookbinders use Cave Papers and there are customized papers created for unique projects. When I was interning they were making sheets for wallpaper for an interior designer. Recently they completed a 30 x 30 foot sheet of flax paper for artist Sipho Mabona to fold into a 10 foot origami elephant (you can read more about the project on Helen Hiebert’s blog).
Maybe it’s the site imparting a bit of mystery and intrigue. Maybe it’s the sheer about of time and attention that goes into each sheet. The truth is that the papers from Cave are entirely unique and can stand alone as works of art.
Enjoy this Minnesota Original video of Cave Paper where Amanda and Bridget show how they make their paper and talk about their artistic work. And if you’re in the Minneapolis area, stop by their mill on May 3rd when they open their new showroom!