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Tom Leech, a good friend and member of TSL, is deeply involved with the re-introduction of the Tibetan method of paper making back into Tibet. The two papers presented below give a good overview of this effort. We at TSL support this worthy project to re-establish a traditional Tibetan craft and bring a means of livelihood to many that would otherwise do without. If you wish to provide your support or sponsor one of the group's presentations, there is a list of names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses at the end of this section.



  Retracing Tibet's Paper Road

 Paper Road/Tibet 1996 Project Report

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Retracing Tibet's Paper Road

Jane M. Farmer

    The technology of hand paper making followed the Silk Road across China and central Asia. I realized this while curating my first national exhibition, Paper as Medium, for the Smithsonian Institution in 1977. The Kyoto opening of the Arts America, United States Information Agency-sponsored traveling exhibition, New American Paperworks, in the context of the International Paper Conference/Japan '83, led to my awareness of the urgent need to preserve the fragile techniques and traditions associated with hand paper making in different cultures. I saw a new role that contemporary artists could play, as catalysts for this preservation. I also felt a need to break away from the tendency to limit paperworks to exhibitions.

    These realizations, in turn, led me to conceive a series of international, collaborative, site-related projects at major junctions along what I came to call the Paper Road. Many sites offer historic, technical, and present-day cultural possibilities: beginning in China with the invention of paper making; west to Xian, Dun Huang, Kashgar, Samarkand, Istanbul, and Cairo; on to Europe; to the east to Korea and Japan, to meet with the sacred bark fiber traditions of the Pacific Basin. I shared this fantasy with Carol Brighton, a consultant for the Taipei Museum of Modern Art, when I traveled to Taiwan in 1984 to install New American Paperworks for its opening there.

    In the late 1980s my environmental concerns caused the Paper Road fantasy to evolve toward a project that would use site projects to raise awareness of ecological crises. In the Winter 1991 issue of Hand Papermaking, Tom Leech wrote an article about his participation in the Everest Environmental Project. He described recycling paper trash his group had collected at Everest Base Camp in Tibet and teaching the rudiments of recycling paper to the young monks at Rongbhu Monastery, nearby The article inspired me, then a juror for the fourth Paper Biennial in Duren, Germany, on the theme of Paper and Nature, to propose that Tom's work be represented among the many interpretations of this theme. The resulting work of art, Prayer for Qomolungma is a beautiful series of lungta (Tibetan prayer flags), made from recycled paper. Each incorporates a chulingta, the special, small paper lungta that Tibetans toss to the winds--and spirits--when they are traversing the high mountain passes. Hung in rows, Tom's prayer flags together form an immense image of Qomolungma, the Tibetan name for Mount Everest. Working with Tom on the Duren project led to discussions of the Paper Road idea. We decided to start the project with a collaboration at Rongbhu Monastery and we invited Carol Brighton to help us organize the project. As an artist and papermaker who has traveled in China and Tibet and who speaks Chinese, Carol brings other invaluable perspectives and skills to the project. The group of project members then grew to include Jim Canary, a Tibetan scholar and book conservator from Bloomington, Indiana, and Dorothy Field, an artist and papermaker from Victoria, British Columbia, with extensive experience researching and teaching Nepalese hand papermaking techniques.

    By June of 1995 we found that we were raising more questions than answers in the course of our research, about both historic practices and the present situation of hand papermaking in Tibet. It was time to take a trip to answer some of these questions for ourselves. Tom, Carol, Jim, and I were joined by Darla Hillard, a writer and seasoned Asian traveler associated with The Mountain Institute. This West Virginia-based, non-profit organization carries out an ambitious program to protect mountain environments and mountain peoples worldwide, including an active involvement in the establishment of the Qomolungma Nature Preserve. Calling our effort Paper Road/Tibet, we spent nearly a month in Tibet in 1995. We traveled with reprints of photographs taken in the 1930s, which we used as visual cues to inspire Tibetans to recall memories and associations with handmade paper. (2) We found many people who remembered papermaking and using handmade papers. Quite a few of them made paper when they were young, sometimes in school, to use for their own lessons. Papermaking was a common family practice among those in southern Tibet who could not afford to buy paper. We spoke with many who would like to have access today to traditional handmade paper, both for printing and for writing We even found a few elderly people who still make handmade paper, when they have the raw materials. One man still prepares and applies the traditional materials to create "thing shog," a rich, black, smoothly-burnished surface for gold and silver calligraphy.

    At the Buddhist Printing House of Lhasa we discovered scholars, old and young, who are comparing surviving religious sutra pages to correct minor character or printing errors and repairing damaged areas before choosing one best version for a new edition. Woodcarvers in Nyemo, the town and valley that is considered the "cradle of creativity" in central Tibet, are carving the texts on wooden blocks. Today in Tibet paper of all kinds is expensive and the main paper available for printing these new sutra is commercial Chinese paper. As in the other surviving monastery printing houses, the scholars at the Buddhist Printing House are interested in locating higher quality handmade paper.

    Our first trip confirmed that historically there had been several different types of traditional papers made and used in Tibet, depending on the fiber resources of each region. We verified that Wickstroemia chamaejasme (also known as Stellera chamaejasme was the fiber used for paper made in the high altitude plains of southern Tibet. It takes as many as eight mature plants to make one 24" x 48" sheet of paper from the inner best fibers of the root. In southern Tibet the predominant fiber seems to have been daphne. We are following leads on this material to find where it still grows, and to determine whether it can be cultivated in Lhasa. (3)

    We have seen more recent Tibetan books which we believe are printed on bamboo paper and we have seen centuries-old papermaking facilities in nearby Sichuan province, China, where bamboo paper continues to be made today Bamboo is prevalent in the wetter lower-altitudes of southeastern Tibet. The bamboo papers we have seen in Tibetan books have laid lines and the contemporary papermakers we have seen in Sichuan use laid molds. Although we have much more research to do on the papermaking in eastern Tibet, it is possible that this form of papermaking conforms to what Jesper Trier refers to as the "Himalayan arc" of papermaking, which migrated along tin southern arc of the Himalaya. This occurred later than the earliest method of papermaking, which moved along the "Tibetan arc" along with the regional expansion of Tibetan culture in the seventh century.(4)

    Jim has brought to the project his translating skills, interpreting historic Tibetan texts about papermaking and medicinal plants, including references to Stellera as a medicinal. In translating the texts, Jim is developing a list of papermaking and paper usage terms for a Tibetan­English glossary We plan to continue to refine this information in our interviews with Tibetans and to use it as a base for common terminology in our training workshops.

    On the first research trip the group explored a number of possible organizations where a training program could be established, to reconnect the broken threads of what had been a thriving network of handmade paper producers and users in Tibet. We also met many individuals who are very interested in the project's objectives.

    By the spring of 1996 it was again necessary to have some personal meetings in Tibet, to search further for the best location for a training workshop, and to continue to try to meet papermakers. In June, Tom and Carol returned to Tibet to continue the project's work. As we had on our first trip, they heard the papermakers' and villagers' commonly shared story of the dramatic break in the network between the monasteries and the papermakers after 1959, the economic changes in the community, and the resultant decline of the craft of papermaking. (5)

    The main accomplishment of this second trip was the agreement to have project participants work in the fall of 1996, teaching a series of training workshops in Lhasa at the Handicraft School for Tibetan Handicapped. This effort will support the establishment of a facility for the development of paper recycling. It will also begin to provide valuable skills to this community of disabled young people and will help support the traditional craft. The founding notion behind the handicraft school was to sustain traditional Tibetan handicrafts and to provide both vocational training and work for the Tibetans who were unemployed as a result of the many changes since 1959. The project members feel that the Handicraft School is the ideal group in Lhasa for us to work with. The Handicraft School brings craftspeople from other regions of Tibet to instruct and inspire their students, ho also come from throughout Tibet. We are delighted to locate our first workshop in this institution where the goals and the approach to the work parallel our own. (6)

    The Paper Road/Tibet project is also exploring possibilities for re-establishing hand papermaking outside of Lhasa. In southern Tibet, where papermaking was formerly common, there is now both oppressive poverty and a practical need for paper. On each of our trips we met with representatives of the Qomolungma Nature Preserve (QNP), and the Rongbhu monastery, where Tom demonstrated recycling in 1990. QNP managers have pledged their support in working to reintroduce hand papermaking to this area in a way that will meet regional needs. In June of 1996, Tom and Carol held a recycled papermaking demonstration for students from the middle school in Shegar, which was enthusiastically received, further encouraging us to consider the possibilities of working through village schools.

    Another parallel activity that the Paper Road/Tibet project has been pursuing concerns the efforts of a group of Tibetans now living in Kathmandu, Nepal, who have gotten involved in hand papermaking and the fabrication of stationery products made with handmade daphne paper. The company, Tibetan Handicraft Paper Industry (THPI), produces excellent quality papers, made in the Nepalese village of Kodari. They also fabricate stationery packets, blank journals, picture frames, and albums, with a sensitivity toward indigenous Tibetan design traditions as well as for contemporary uses and ecological considerations. We have been advising this group and THPI products are now available in the United States. (7) Paper Road/Tibet hopes that assisting THPI in strengthening and marketing their products will allow us to use them as a role model for products that could be developed in Tibet for export.

    Over the years, Paper Road/Tibet has evolved from an art project, signaling a general need to restore the earth, to a project to help restore a traditional craft that had been an essential part of Tibetan culture. Perhaps one day we will undertake that collaborative art project, but today we are busy working out the logistics of facilitating the teaching of young Tibetans about the role of traditional hand papermaking, before the elder papermakers that we have located are no longer available to teach them. We are also introducing them to techniques adapted to today's environmental concerns. With an awareness of the ecological dangers of encouraging the harvesting of possibly threatened indigenous plants, we are focusing our first efforts on teaching simple recycling of everyday business papers to provide Tibetans with the skills and abilities to address a growing problem of trash, introducing the concept of recycling almost at the same time that the paper-dominated 20th century reaches some of the more remote corners of Tibet. After three years of research and discussion, this evolving project has three primary goals: to provide vocational training to teachers and students; to assist in the preservation of a Tibetan cultural tradition; and to contribute to sustainable economic development.

    We continue to ask ourselves many questions to refine our ideas, which we know will grow and change as we continue to meet and learn from Tibetans. Using the best possible models and programs to assist Tibetans in developing solutions to their needs, we strive to keep the project Tibetan-centered. Constantly, we are faced with the delicate task of balancing historic authenticity, contemporary practicality and long-term ecological sustainability. We strongly believe in the validity of handmade paper as a means to restore cultural traditions and to focus on developing appropriate relationships to historic handicraft and the environment. At the same time we want the project to help bring about a return to ecological center. We hope we can assist a culture retain and revitalize a historic tradition, and provide a small economic opportunity for craftspeople.

The author thanks those who have contributed to this article, in particular her four fellow project members--Tom Leech, Carol Brighton, Jim Canary, and Dorothy Field, whose dedication, expertise, and good humor keep the project moving.


(1) There are five or six systems for transcribing words from Tibetan to English. For this article. I have written the Tibetan words and names in a way which approximates their pronunciation, rather than following any one established system.

(2) We took a photograph of papermakers in Gyantse taken by Suydam Cutting in 1935 (the original is in the collec- of the Newark Museum) and several photographs, published by Dard Hunter in Papermaking, in 1947. Hunter never went to Tibet, although he wanted to. An unknown photographer took the photograph published in Hunter's book. Hunter obtained it through a source he used in the region

(3) Jim traveled to Tibet again in August, 1996, and visited a village near Kyomdong, southeast of Lhasa. He found an old man who showed him an area where he collected samples of a third papermaking fiber, Wikstroemia canescens L., a six to eight foot shrub, which grows on three mountains near Kyemdong and vvas used for Kyemshug, or "Kyemdong paper". This will be another regional tradition and process that we will pursue for future workshops.

(4) Jesper Trier, Ancient Payer of Nepal (Copenhagen: Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, Volume X, 1972), p. 32.

(5) The People's Republic of China took control of Tibet in 1959 and now calls it the Tibet Autonomous Region. l he cultural changes that took place then and in the years since have been profound throughout Tibet.

(6) Paper Road/Tibet has received grants from the Everest Environmental Project in support of the introduction of recycling in Lhasa at the Handicraft School, as well as a grant from the Canada Fund at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing to purchase equipment and cover travel and living expenses for the Tibetans.

(7.) Distribution is being handled by Mac McCoy of dZi Tibetan Importers of Washington, D.C.

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    We are writing at the time of the Tibetan New Year, the year of the Fire Ox, reviewing the tremendous progress made by the Paper Road/Tibet project last year. 1996 was very busy and productive for the Paper Road/Tibet project; and we have lots of very good news to report.

Tom Leech and Carol Brighton had an excellent trip to Tibet in June that led to an agreement with Jampa Zundhup, Director of the Handicraft School for Tibetan Handicapped in Lhasa. They also had a meeting in Lhasa with a representative from the Canada Fund/Beijing that resulted in the grant described below. They conducted recycled papermaking demonstrations at the Handicraft School in Lhasa and with middle school students in Shegar at the of offices of the Qomolungma Nature Preserve. They met other master craftsmen, including a papermaker who used to make paper in Lhasa in the 1950's and a calligrapher who still prepares the beautiful blackened paper for gold and silver penned manuscripts.

    Jim Canary spent most of August in Tibet where he continued his research on plants, fibers and manuscripts. Jim also traveled to the seldom-visited area of Kyemdong, southeast of Lhasa, where he gathered fiber samples and interviewed papermakers.

    Dorothy Field, Tom Leech and Jane Farmer spent four weeks in Lhasa during September and October working with Jampa and the staff and students at the Handicraft School. The school brings handicapped -- often orphaned -- children from all over Tibet to the school in Lhasa. Students are given self-sufficiency, despite their handicaps, in the form of training in the traditional crafts, making their vocational prospects more promising and at the same time preserving the valuable cultural traditions. The school's goals for Tibetan handicrafts parallel our intentions for hand papermaking in Tibet: to preserve the traditional skills, to provide vocational training to teachers and students and to contribute to ecologically sustainable economic development. With the Canada Fund grant we brought Gokgo-la, a master papermaker from Nyemo, and seven papermakers from Kyemdong to Lhasa for three weeks. They worked with us and the school staff to set up the school's temporary papermaking facilities [in their old building], exchanged information among themselves about traditional processes, taught us and selected school students and staff their respective traditional processes and met with local calligraphers and printers. We also introduced the papermakers and students to the process of making western-style recycled paper and created prototypes for stationary products to be produced for sale to tourists [and eventually for export]. The Paper Road/Tibet project promotes the concept of using the recycled papers for short-term uses -- such as stationary products -- and using the traditional fiber papers for long-term uses such as the printing of Sutra, important documents and journals.

    Paper Road/Tibet received three grants last year for the pilot project in Lhasa. The first is a grant of Y73, 180 [about $9,100.] from the Canada Fund of the Embassy of Canada in Beijing. The grant, in yuan, was deposited directly into the school's Lhasa account and is primarily for the purchase of papermaking equipment and supplies and for the expenses of the Tibetan participants of the workshops. We are thrilled that the Embassy of Canada in Beijing has given us this first institutional endorsement of Paper Road/Tibet.

    Carol Brighton received an anonymous grant that covered travel costs for her expenses for the trip to Tibet with Tom last spring. Carol's extensive travel experience and Chinese language skills are invaluable for those of us traveling with her in Tibet. The third grant is $500.00 from the Everest Environmental Project [EEP] for our work to introduce the making of recycled paper to the Handicraft School this fall. EEP also donated a solar collector and authorized Tom to purchase a battery in Lhasa which we delivered to the Rongbhu Monastery at the end of our trip.

    We have also had several very generous individual contributions to the project and several direct contributions to the Handicraft School. Lee S. McDonald, Inc., a supplier of hand papermaking equipment and materials, donated a number of important items for the project. Despite all of these grants and contributions, we continue to have great difficulty funding the organizational expenses here in the US, for the very expensive travel costs for project members and for the long-term goal of bringing a Tibetan to Nepal or the US for further training.

    Thanks to an introduction by Milo Beach, the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery Museum Shop has started carrying the stationary products made by our friends at the Tibetan Handicraft Paper Industry [THPI] in Kathmandu. These young Tibetans continue refining their already well-designed products made of high quality daphne paper produced in Kodari, Nepal. We hope as our training program progresses, these excellent Tibetan businessmen will be teachers in our program. Mac McCoy, the Director of dZi: the Tibet Collection, has contributed lots of time and good advice and has taken samples of THPI products to several trade fairs. Mac will travel to Kathmandu this March and will work with THPI to further improve their products. dZi is now the wholesale representative for the products of the Tibetan Handicraft Industry and is interested in helping us market handmade paper products from Tibet, when the time comes. This winter's issue of Hand Papermaking published an article about the project, including samples of block printed papers made by THPI. Two Colorado Springs papers, the Gazette Telegraph and the Independent printed articles on Tom Leech and the project. All of the project members gave slide talks about the project to a variety of groups, generating a little income and lots of interest.

    There is much to do in 1997: we are currently working on locating the equipment proposed in the Canada Fund grant. Once the equipment has been located, we will work with the school in Lhasa to plan a trip back to assist the school in the installation and to train them on the use of the printing press and other papermaking equipment. We would like to place one or two of our members in Lhasa for a longer period. We continue to work with THPI and hope that members of the THPI staff will go to Lhasa with our project representatives to help set up the permanent papermaking and teaching facility in the school's new building just north of the Potala. We continue our research in papermaking and continue our efforts to raise funds for additional workshops in Tibet.

    We continue to need financial support both for the direct expenses in Tibet as well as for the considerable US expenses for this project that are still being paid primarily by project members. Your purchase of tee shirts and/or THPI paper products as well as your contribution--however small--have and can make a big difference! Your contributions are tax deductible. Contact us if you want further information on any aspect of the project, or if you would like to arrange a slide talk in your area.

Crossing Over Consortium Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.

Phone: 202\966.4828 fax:: 202\244.5952

email: consort@erols.com or 70421.440 @compuserve.com

 Project members:

  • Jane M. Farmer (project director)
  • Tom Leech
  • Carol Brighton
  • Jim Canary
  • Dorothy Field
  • Neil Greentree
  • Raki tones

 International advisors:

  • Milo Beach: Smithsonian Institution
  • J. Cabriel Campbell: The Mountain Institute
  • Michael Durgin: Hand Papermaking
  • Kathy P. Harvard: Founder, Bhaktapur Craft Printers, Nepal
  • Susan Meinheit: Library of Congress
  • Yasutaka Morita:nMorita Japanese Paper Company
  • Liz Nichol: Everest Environmental Project
  • Pan Jixing : Academica Sinica/Beijing
  • Valrae Reynolds: The Newark Museum

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