Giant handmade paper for Sipho Mabona

I was so happy to be in the right place at the right time when my friend Sipho Mabona had an ambitious idea to fold a life size elephant out of a single sheet of paper. His sculpture called for a piece of paper 15m x 15m (50ft x 50ft) large; the papermakers able to help him were Amanda Degener and Bridget O’Malley from Cave Paper in Minneapolis along with a handful of helpers, including myself.

Making handmade paper the size of a small house is a rather rare occurence. It involves a huge space to work, a lot of fibre and of course heaps of stamina. Using their connections, Amanda and Bridget managed to recruit enthusiastic helpers and took over The Grain Belt Brewery Complex, a former brewery which has been turned into artist studios. I had so much fun being a part of the team and participating in Sipho’s gorgeous elephant that I’ve decided to share the process with you.

18 sheets of paper measuring 5m(17ft) x 2.5m(8.5ft) were individually made and assembled into 6 strips. The strips were then sent to Switzerland where Sipho joined them in-situ into one very large square measuring 15m(50ft)x15m.

To make each 5m x 2.5m piece of paper, a nylon mesh was laid out directly on the floor. Flax paper pulp was then poured on to the mesh. This is enough to create paper, but Sipho needed a thick, uniform sheet so we applied sheets of handmade paper 50cm x 70cm onto the wet pulp and poured another layer of pulp over the top.  That’s right, we created a very large, soggy, paper sandwich using around 115kg (250lbs) of paper!

Here are some images:


For those of you who are interested in the actual creation of the life-size elephant, Shiso Productions have made an excellent 6 part documentary series.