Friday, June 2, 2017

Fabulous Fabriano Part V

Our trip to Fabriano, Italy, continues...
(Here are the links to past posts, just in case you missed them:  Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV)

My husband Lou and I were left to wander the rooms of the Fabriano Paper and Watermark Museum and survey the ancient paper making devices...
Wooden paper drying rack
I was mesmerized by this device.
The little 'L-shaped' feet pushed upward, the paper inserted, and then
the feet returned to position and gently held the paper to dry.

...when we heard someone calling out to us in English.  English!  It was music to our ears.

We turned to be welcomed by the most hospitable museum guide.  "I speak English!", she exclaimed in a delightfully thick Italian accent. The older gentleman, who earlier had shown us to the theater room, had sent her to us.  Claudia (pronounced "Kah loud ee-ah") was energetic, extremely knowledgeable, and eager to share her love for the museum with us.

As IAST friend, Ragged Ray, once said, there is a never ending joy in a shared passion.
We were able to tell Claudia about our 'Paper Pilgrimage' and quickly connected through our mutual love for Fabriano.
The next precious thirty minutes with Claudia (we would soon learn just how precious it was to have this private time) was filled with joy.  She gave just the two of us a tour as if she was leading scores of tourists through the history of paper making.

We were thrust so swiftly into this wonderful world of her devotion and expertise, that we were slow to produce our cameras and click away.  Fortunately Lou was more prepared and captured some gems.

Claudia explained that the invention of the hammermill in the 1200's, along with a special coating process, transformed the paper making industry.  
A hammermill (like the one pictured below) is rigged with long wooden arms(hammers), each equipped with a blade on the end to pulverize the cotton rags used to make paper.  Formerly, this was all done by hand. 

"When first built centuries ago, this hammermill was hand cranked," she said. "Today, it is run by an electric motor." 

As Claudia was finishing her sentence, she walked around the huge device and flipped a switch.
Fortunately I had just taken my phone out and was able to capture just a bit on video ~

It rattled and roared, the weight of those long arms shook the floor.  Like the children of C.S. Lewis' novels, who first stepped into Narnia, the wonder of it all engulfed me.  I could picture people of long ago dedicating their lives to the development and creation the finest paper.  I appreciated all the more the developments over the centuries that brought all of that history, and all of that expertise to me - to all of us - who use Fabriano paper today.

Onto an adjoining room, Claudia brought us to an even larger and longer contraption that was used to coat the freshly dried paper.
This process, along with the invention of the watermark, catapulted paper to the forefront of usefulness and placed it on par with parchment.
The special coating is made from animal products, not used in consumption, that are boiled and blended with (among other things) water.
The large vat in the middle of the machine holds the liquid.
Sheets of paper are inserted between two pieces of felt (left), through the liquid, pressed through rollers, and pushed out the other side.

The special liquid coating used to be made in Fabriano, but is now made in the northern region of Italy and shipped to the factory.  When it was produced here, it was prepared in a pot over a fire pit like this one ~

Claudia directed our attention to a large vat in the very same room, off to the right side.  She began to explain that the vat was filled with water soaked fibers, and as if on cue, out from behind a curtain, a gentleman came forward and began dipping a tray into the tub.

A master craftsman, deftly, silently creating paper in front of us.
It all happened in an instant - so much to take in - but I do remember Claudia saying, "The superior quality is in the movement of the hands of the paper maker."  We were in awe.

He rolled the contents of the tray onto a felt pad.  Notice the rounded top of the wooden table.
Then he picked up the felt and piled it onto previous pieces, this time onto a flat topped table.

Claudia picked up the top felt pad to show us what the freshly produced paper looked like.
She explained that once the corners were removed and the paper folded, it would become an envelope.
Then she showed us the exact screen that the master used in his demonstration.

And therein lies the wonder and magic and genius of watermarking.  
These handmade screens consist of a wooden frame, intricately woven wire screens, and wire images and lettering.  When a paper making master fills this frame with the water soaked fibers, the imprint is embedded in the freshly produced paper.  Who knew?  I was enamored. 

Claudia was gracious to let me touch it - I just had to!

Would you believe that this particular screen was being used to create envelopes for a calligraphy guild in the United States?  When Claudia told us that I was so astonished that  I asked her repeat it. Here we were standing in Fabriano, Italy,  witnessing envelopes being made by a master paper maker for a guild in the United States - a very small world indeed.

The room was filled with even more treasures - piles and piles of the most beautiful paper.  It was difficult to keep my hands to myself.  This paper, Claudia explained, was made with the addition of artichokes.

A timeworn press...

Gobs of deckle edged paper...
Large rocks served to keep the paper pressed flat...

I would have taken this whole table home, if I could have.

Claudia glanced at her watch and informed us that the museum would be closing soon for the lunch hours.  She suggested that we take a few minutes to go upstairs to see more displays.  She was excited to tell us that an international watercolor artist's show was on display and that artists from all over the world were in town. 

In the quiet of our alone time in the museum that morning, it was amusing to take in that information. Where was everyone?

We ascended the steps to the upper level of the museum and lo and behold, there were people - and even more wonders to absorb.  

To be continued...


  1. Wow, this is like reading a book, suspenseful till you get to the next chapter. Thank you! I've not heard of Fabriano paper before (my ignorance) so now I'm on an adventure to find it, feel it, just to see how it measures up to all the years of the school paper, copy paper, notebook, journal paper that I only know. :)

    1. Yes, you will have to purchase some tiles. If there isn't a CZT near you, you can order them from

  2. I love using Fabriano paper!! This is so exciting to see and read! Now I will have to add a similar trip to my bucket list!

    1. When you do go, you will have to stay at the Machese de Grillo and tell Mario we sent you :)