Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 4, 2019
First, make the paper, then create art
Gigi Sarsfield’s Handmade Papers Gallery
by Anne Berleant
Employed in the computer field for decades, Gigi Sarsfield turned a papermaking class she took at a local college into a 25-year passion, now centered in Brooklin, where she moved in 1999.
“I wanted to get back to Maine,” said Sarsfield, who lived in Castine in the 1980s working as a data processing manager at Maine Maritime Academy.
Left to raise a 15-year-old and a 15-month-old after her husband died in a boat building accident in Brazil, Sarsfield moved from North Carolina to Virginia, where she first learned the art of papermaking. Already a weaver, Sarsfield found that “to splash around making paper [was] all the fun stuff and not as hard work.”
Her first focus was making calligraphy paper but “people don’t write anymore,” she said. As that market shifted, Sarsfield turned to lamps, matching her handmade paper shades with frames and unique bases to create pieces that add more than light to a room.
Her lamp bases come from a range of artists and crafters, alongside “found” items, like the pieces of an old clarinet waiting in her studio on a recent June afternoon. She specializes in custom lamps for homes, businesses and boats.
In her Handmade Papers Gallery, run out of her home at 113 Reach Road, stacks of artist-grade handmade paper in shades of blues, creams, reds and yellows sit alongside blank books covered with paper laced with garlic stems, paper wasps, lichens and leaves, similar to her lampshades. Prints by English painter and boat builder James Dodd, whom she represents, grace the walls.
“When people come in, they’re pretty psyched,” Sarsfield said.
She creates her textured, one-of-a-kind paper by first filling a large plastic tub with water and fiber made from Japanese mulberry bark, called kozo.
“They’re plants that love water,” she said, similar to bamboo.
Using a simple wood-framed screen, she works the fiber pieces until they disintegrate into pulp. Pigment is added for color, and then the pulp is beaten by machine and pressed, with bits added for texture, into paper. Only then can Sarsfield create her lampshades by fitting the paper onto one of the wire frames piled high in her studio, a two-hour-or-so process she entrusts to her assistants, Genevieve Claybaugh and Grace Hylan.
If her lamp is going on a yacht, only a brass frame is used. A shade may be coated with acrylic to protect it from dust, or lined with wallpaper liner, and the pigments used in her paper are specially formulated to be light-fast.
“There’s so much you can do with this once you get going,” she said.
Handmade Paper Gallery is open 12 to 5 p.m. through Columbus Day. Sarsfield’s work can be seen on her website, handmadepapersonline.com, or on Etsy at etsy.com/shop/HandmadePaperGallery.