Papermaking by hand in many countries might be considered outdated or perhaps its mention might give one a romanticized idea of the craft, but in today’s Iran, it is practically unheard of.
Enter Ali Pezeshk, a young entrepreneur raising the profile of papermaking by hand in Iran. After a chance encounter with John Plowman’s The Craft of Handmade Paper at a book fair, Pezeshk decided to learn more about the craft. His interest further deepened on reading works by Alexandra Soteriou and learning about the history of the craft in his country. Although historically papermaking was once practiced in what is now called Iran, there was no one continuing the tradition nor anyone who knew of the traditional practices whom Pezeshk could track down.
His first step towards learning the craft was to translate Plowman’s book into Farsi. In doing this, Pezeshk wrote his understanding of the process of making paper by hand in his own words. Reading, writing, and then applying this learning to his newfound interest, Ali Pezeshk decided to write and publish a simpler version “for teenagers about papermaking principles and how to make paper at home.”1 His book, published in 2011 by the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, is titled in Farsi, زاستسد یاهذغاک , or Handmade Papers.
This book has made the craft of contemporary hand papermaking accessible in Iran in a way it had not been before. In 2015 the publication won the honorary diploma at the 15th Children & Young Adults Book Festival in Tehran.
Taking this deep dive further still, Pezeshk started a paper studio with the help of a few friends. Kaghazgari-e Tehran was launched in 2011 and claims to be the first paper studio of its kind in modern-day Iran. The mission of the studio in Pezeshk’s own words is “to introduce the concept of papermaking by hand as it is totally new in Iran,”2 and to continue his own artistic practice. In his personal work, Pezeshk makes paper from a variety of materials for use as flat sheets for drawing and painting. More recently he has started experimenting with sculptures that use the luminous qualities of his paper in their display. He experiments with myriad fibers like rice straw,3 reeds that grow behind the studio, and mulberry,4 as well as with surface treatments using natural dyes, and conducts print collaborations with artists in Tehran. The development of his work seems to be intrinsically linked with the progress and direction of the studio.
Getting Kaghazgari-e Tehran up and running was hard work. Using the help of books, the internet, and magazines, Pezeshk made a majority of the tools and equipment used in the studio, such as the Western mould, the production vat, and the stack dryer. After investing in a beater from Mark Lander,5 the studio was ready for production papermaking. Paper is made in a team of two, with Pezeshk working together with an intern or volunteer. The market for handmade paper did not exist when he began, but Pezeshk persisted by producing seed papers (wildflowers and herbs) as a novelty item to generate enough revenue to sustain the outfit. As interest in handmade paper grew, Kaghazgari-e Tehran started producing a range of papers using locally sourced fibers like rice straw, wheat straw, mulberry, and cotton rag. Some of these are dip-dyed using madder, indigo, safflower, and walnut available from a local store. After dyeing, the papers are sized using gelatin or wheat starch.
Pezeshk’s goal is to expand this production model and start teaching workshops in the city to a wider audience and encourage people from all backgrounds to experience making paper by hand. One of the workshops advertised on the studio’s website is titled “Papermaking as Transformation.” When asked about the premise for this class, Pezeshk admits being influenced by Peace Paper Project, and hopes that attendees will bring in their clothing to transform it into sheets of paper.6
Pezeshk is experimenting with new techniques, adapting and enriching Kaghazgari-e Tehran’s mission to become a vibrant center for learning and education through the craft of papermaking in Iran.
1. Ali Pezeshk, e-mail message to the author, January 31, 2019.
2. Ali Pezeshk, e-mail message to the author, January 31, 2019.
3. Rice is planted in most parts of Northern Iran.
4. Pezeshk harvests this fiber from pretty much anywhere he finds it, whether from people cutting it back in their gardens or refuse from clearings around roadsides in Teheran.
5. Pezeshk has dreams of building one with a transparent body so that students can see the transformation from raw fiber to serviceable pulp.
6. Pezeshk and Drew Mattot of Peace Paper collaborated briefly and wanted to work together further but could not sustain a remote collaboration after encountering visa issues.