Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I started my research in the small town of Amalfi on the western coast of Italy, just south of Naples. Known as the Valley of the Mills, Amalfi is currently home to two functioning mills and il Mueso della Carta, the paper museum, which gives in depth tours. Getting to Amalfi was reasonably simple, taking a train from Naples to Sorrento, and then taking a bus to Amalfi. One of the most memorable experiences of my time in Italy was the bus ride down a road that was built into the coastline. Out my window it was a straight drop into the Tyrrhenian Sea, turquoise even in the haze and on the other side a rock face with sporadic mountain vegetation. Having spent the semester in the rolling hills of Tuscany, this was quite the dramatic change. Amalfi itself is a small fishing town with a larger harbor and touristy shops that would ordinarily be bustling during popular summer months. In November the town is comprised only of locals and it was easy for me to navigate my way to the museum. The tour was just two other people and myself. The tour guide went through the history of the 16 original Amalfi mills and how the location was chosen specifically due to necessary provisions; running water was needed to power the mills and the nearby harbor was excellent for resources. The mill itself had the original 12th century facilities including the original Hollander beaters and tiled pulp tank. Unique to Amalfi was the use of fish products as a stabilizer in the pulp, to help the cloth particles condense. Today's industrial papers are most often made with wood because of its abundance and the shortened process, but handmade paper is traditionally made with cotton pieces that have been broken down. After the tour, I was able to pull a few sheets of paper with the same style mould and deckle used in the 12th century.
The next stop of my trip was Fabriano, the home of Italian papermaking and known as the City of Paper. While papermaking spread through all of Italy, it originated in Fabriano. Fabriano is also where many new techniques came to be, including gelatin sizing (for more universally sized paper) as well as the watermark. The town also has an industrial factory located near the entrance, which produces paper used today by artists as well as regular printer paper. Located in the Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, Fabriano is a little more difficult to find. Il Museo della Carta e della Filigrana (Paper and Watermark Museum) is situated in a former monastery in the center of town. Along with a group of students from a school in Georgia, we toured the paper facilities, which didn't differ very much from those in Amalfi, and then went on to the watermark portion of the tour. The guide explained the painstaking task of creating a wax mold for a watermark and the artistry it takes to create the perfect chiaroscuro of a watermark. Some of the watermarks were so incredible you didn't think to use the paper for anything other than admiring. The facilities at Fabriano are very different from Amalfi and are meant more as a teaching center where people come from all over to learn different techniques of paper and bookmaking.
In addition to the places I sought out on my own, during the semester, the program I was with went to a mill in Bevanga (La Cartiera), near Assisi, where we got a tour of the recreated medieval facilities. This mill was very rustic and the proprietor only spoke Italian, so while the process was easy enough to understand, some of the finer details were lost in the translation.
Back in the states, I look forward to using what I've learned to teach others about papermaking and enriching that with the history of the Italian methods. I have started working in the papermaking studio here at St. Lawrence and this summer I plan on teaching papermaking to my campers at camp. Learning firsthand and being able to practice Italian papermaking has been an unforgettable experience and by far one of the most fulfilling in my time abroad.