What a wonderful journey I've had during the past two years, visiting traditional craftspeople in Somerset. The journey to the Two Rivers Paper Company in Roadwater, near Watchet last month was very memorable. I stopped in the lovely Roadwater community shop and cafe then turned into what must be one of the narrowest roads in Somerset - it seemed unlikely - and looked for a sign to the Old Mineral Line, once a railway track taking iron ore from Exmoor to Watchet! Pitt Mill lies at the end of the road. It was a grain mill in the 1600s. When Jim Patterson bought it in 1986 the waterwheel had long gone, but he could imagine making paper there. He' was steeped in paper - his family had worked in papermills since Victorian times. He went into the mills when he left school and had years of experience running papermaking machines in this country and abroad. But he had always hankered after having a paper mill of his own one day.
Today Pitt Mill is a working mill again, with an overshot waterwheel Jim bought from an old farm in Wales. The wheel is turned by the flow of water from the stream and powers the 19th century rag-breaking machine inside. There is the rush of water and the creak of moving wood. Zoe here is sieving the mix of cotton and linen pulp to make a sheet of watercolour paper. She's tilting the mould and deckle back and forth and from left to right, doing the 'papermaker's shake'. It's just a mater of seconds. Then comes the process of pressing, sizing and drying the sheets of new paper.
I made several drawings and took photographs in the mill and back in my studio I distilled a charcoal drawing of Zoe making a sheet of paper. The drawing is on a sheet of Two Rivers sized paper. I also made a small oil painting of the sheets hung up to dry in the attic drying room. The sketch below is of Jim sizing a sheet of paper.
The paper itself is unusual because Jim adds linen into the cotton to make a strong, durable watercolour paper. It's very romantic and atmospheric in the mill, and the craftsmanship is ancient, but, as Jim explained, people don't buy the paper just because of the story, just because there's a waterwheel and it's made by hand. The distinctiveness of the paper and its particular characteristics have to sell themselves. It's a cottage industry, employing five people, it has to be a viable business. Well, I can vouch for the paper, it is beautiful to work on. I have used it as part of a bookmaking project and for drawing and painting and it is robust, forgiving and beautiful. www.tworiverspaper.com
Two Rivers will also be part of the exciting new East Quay development in Watchet opening September 2021, but will continue making paper at Pitt Mill too. www.onioncollective.co.uk/eastquay-development-watchet
My project 'The Old Craft in Somerset involves painting and drawing craftspeople at work and collecting their stories. There will be an exhibition and book featuring over 20 craftspeople - blacksmiths, farriers, dry stone waller, thatchers, potters, brushmaker, riddlemaker, weavers, hand made paper maker, and many more.
The collection will be exhibited at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, in Spring 2022. Book launch at the same time. Please add your name to the mailing list for news. My instagram @katelynchartist
All finished artworks will be displayed in the Somerset Rural Life Museum March 2022. For invitation to exhibition please send message.