Paper is a delicate material: white and prone to stains; smooth and sensitive to crumbling; and thin, to be handled with care. Yet it is produced in a loud, hot, vast and quite macho environment: a paper mill is a daunting, fascinating place to visit. It is, however, closed to the public: safety training for outside visitors is beyond our mission as papermakers.
The Fabriano mill, on the banks of the river Giano in the Marche region of Italy, has been a centre for paper manufacture since 1264. The small town is also listed by UNESCO as a ‘Creative City’, and in June 2019 it will host the annual world meeting of UNESCO Creative Cities, which includes a special Fabriano Paper Pavilion. (The Fabriano company has been part of the Fedrigoni Group since 2002.)
So how do we let paper lovers peek behind the scenes? Photographs can be wonderful, but never tell the whole story. As artist Pierre Bonnard wrote, ‘The conventional reflection of the outside world that drawing gives us is incomparably more truthful than the dry process of photography … The eye of the painter gives a human value to objects and reproduces things just as the human eye sees them.’
My grandfather Gianfranco Fedrigoni understood this well. In 1953 he invited Ettore Fagiuoli, a celebrated Veronese artist, to draw and then etch scenes of his beloved paper mill and its employees in the Fedrigoni mill in Verona. Fabriano did the same many decades ago with Petrus (Pietrino Vincenzi). And the engravings about papermaking of Diderot’s Encyclopédie of 1775 are classics.
So my heart leapt when Pulp art director Simon Esterson told me that David Gentleman loved Fabriano Esportazione paper. Esportazione, the ‘Rolls Royce’ of handmade cotton paper, has been in production since 1972, and is a dream for any artist. So we, too, dreamed about the possibility of Gentleman coming to draw the Fabriano paper mill.