Sunday, October 26, 2008
Initially, I thought this was going to be a blog about how to avoid everything I did wrong but I don't think my first try at rewrapping my baren came out all that bad! As you can see in the image above, my baren was WAY overdue for rewrapping. The knots that were most prominent wore through the takenokawa sheath first. I really should have worked to replace the sheath sooner (it was 3 years old after all!) but laziness and procrastination took me over. At any rate, I promised myself that I could not pull the first proof for the Book of Life until I had replaced the sheath. If my reading was correct, I theorized, I could flip any damaged areas of the shin over as it should be loose inside the backing disk.
I purchased 3 replacement sheaths from our dear friends McClain's Printmaking Supply. I wanted 3 in case I screwed the first one up badly. As I carefully unfolded the shipping packaging, 3 crisp flattened takenokawa stared up at me. Now, I must say that I am a religious person but I do not attend church. When you attend church anyway, the first thing the preacher, priest, monk, or witchdoctor will tell you is that God wants you to find spirituality in the everyday. For me, printmaking can offer this up in many way. I touched the surfaces of the sheaths and was blessed by the reality that something so fragile and thin has the ability to lay under the constant pressure of elbow grease and be abraded against a block of wood for at least three years before finally wearing thin. The other epiphany for me was the size of the sheaths. We have red bamboo in our back yard and it often sheds minute sheaths that are about 3 to 4 inches long. I am supposing that the plant that shed these sheaths was very old indeed. I had a soft old piece of fabric from a ripped t-shirt that I wrapped a single sheath in after I misted it with water.
Up front, I own a Murasaki Baren and there is a universe of difference between it and the standard 7.00 baren. Think Pinto vs. Rolls Royce. I can only imagine what a Hon Baren must be like. This being said, when I (painfully) unwrapped my baren I was horrified to find that the shin was GLUED to the back of the ategawa! Someone has hobbled my baren! Well, gone were any hopes of mine to flip the shin if there was fiber damage. I'm positive there must have been fraying at some point but when I run out of traditional ategami paper I use deli wax paper and the wax must've sealed the frays shut. The crack you see in the old sheath was created when I took it off and it resisted taking any other shape other than the one it had dried and molded itself too. I HATED taking the old sheath off because the original wrapping was so elegant and graceful and I knew mine would be rude. I kept the old sheath though so that I might learn from it. I have to note that the inside of the sheath was soft and you could see where the knots in the shin made their indentions.
Preparing the takenokawa was also a very spiritual experience. I am in the basement of the art center and sometimes I got a whole day without seeing another soul. It was very quiet and I could go about my work as I please without much disturbance. I enjoy visitors but preparing a bamboo sheath is not something Charlottesvillians do everyday. To soften the sheath enough to be manipulated into shape you must use your own breath to raise its humidity and temperature. When wet, the takenokawa will curl back up into its original shape and you wrap a damp cloth with it and then blow into the root end until you have heated the entire cloth bundle with your breath. I rinsed my mouth out with water well before I started this. God knows I didn't want a peanut butter and jelly smelling baren for the next few years. So, I paced around my studio blowing into this little damp tube of cloth that looked like a giant dark blue joint. Printmaking really roots me with my heritage I feel because being brought up in the country, we're really a lot of do-it-yourself-ers and there is real value in knowing an learning a craft. If you take the easy way out in sheath softening, (with a blow dryer) you end up with a soggy sheath that will tear like a wet cracker. If you do not take the time to dampen it correctly, it will tear because it is too dry. Breathing life back into the sheath from the root end feels like shamanism because you are breathing your own breath back into it and reanimating the being so that it will work with you if you take the time and patience. Finally, after a bit of pacing and breathing, my takenokawa had come back to life!
I was amazed at how tough the thin plant was as I made my folds and it didn't crack and twisted the handle end as hard as I could and it did not fray. Alas, I did not achieve delicate folds like the master that wrapped my original Murasaki takenokawa but I had wrapped it and I had not wasted a valuable takenokawa! I was rewarded even more when I returned to the studio the next day and the baren had dried and shrunk even tighter! Now I am ready for printing the first proof for the Book of Life!