A Papermaker in Tuscany: Paola Lucchesi
by Catherine Nash
April 1997

Paola Lucchesi (right) with author Catherine Nash (left)
Paola Lucchesi is the owner of Maiz Paper Studio in Compiobbi, a small village in the Tuscan hills just 20 minutes outside of Florence. We met by chance when I discovered a booth selling the most beautiful handmade papers and handbound journals in a flea market in front of Santo Spirito Church. The more we spoke, the more I felt that her story, ideas and adventures in paper would be of interest to other papermakers.

Paola Lucchesi studied at the
Istituto per l'Arte e il Restauro (Institute for Art and Restoration) in Florence and began by learning how to restore wood surfaces and paintings on canvas. Eventually she changed to paper conservation and began a twelve month apprenticeship with the Director of the Uffizi’s Cabinetti Designe e Estampe (Office of Drawings and Prints). It was a year that began exclusively with observation of techniques and slowly led into direct hands-on work using methylcellulose and varnishes in the preparation and washing of old papers.

When Paola completed her studies, she opened with one associate a private studio “Atelier di Restauro CUNIBERTI-LUCCHESI”. After six years of working in Florence, she moved to Paris, France and worked for four years both independently and at Atelier Racine. Paola specialized in doing restoration and conservation of old documents, drawings, prints and papers of all kinds for individuals, artists, antique dealers and collectors. Her largest job was working over an eight month period for the Italian government restoring old photographs of Florence’s Santa Maria Central Station.

It was through a photographer she met in Paris that Paola was introduced to François LaFranca, a Swiss papermaker. For two summers, she worked as his assistant in his paper mill in Ticino, high in the mountains in the Italian part of Switzerland. She enjoyed living communally with the other assistants and working the long thirteen hour days. LaFranca’s production was of large white sheets of cotton fiber destined for use by watercolorists and printmakers. Paola’s training therefore is in very traditional European sheetforming with an emphasis in consistency and strength.

After leaving Paris, she spent almost three months in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. Volunteering for the Red Cross, Paola was placed in Chapas, Mexico to act as a foreign presence within an area struggling with internal strife and violence. To keep occupied, she found herself searching for available plant fibers suitable for paper, and gathered found objects to be used for rudimentary equipment. As she cooked corn husks and banana leaves over a fire, then hand beating the fiber into pulp, an interested crowd gathered around her. It proved to be an effective icebreaker between the townspeople and herself.

When Paola returned home to Florence in the fall of 1995, she leased and restored the old horse stables of an 18th century farmhouse. Her beautiful studio in the Tuscan hills overlooks fields of sunflowers and grapevines, a winding river and the little village of Compiobbi. Paola has now officially opened
Maiz Paper Studio. She has spent a year creating experimental handmade paper with locally available plant fiber and recycled papers. Paola says, “I am most interested in using plants from my landscape for making paper. There are plants all around just waiting for me to find them.” Despite the fact that she does not have a Hollander, Paola’s papers are crisp, rattly and strong. Her experience working with LaFranca in Switzerland taught her the importance of proper sheetforming and pressing. She restored and uses a huge antique screw press which imparts incredible strength to her sheets. Studying the notes of 16th century Italian paper mills, Paola has experimented with various additives found in their old recipes: additives such as talc, alum, glue and kaolin used to achieve various surfaces and for use as sizing. However, presently she prefers to add nothing to the fiber and water, having discovered that some of the additives attract insects.

Paola in her studio
Paola now teaches paper restoration twice a week at her alma mater in Florence, the School of Restoration and Conservation. The job helps support her studio endeavors. During my last visit with her in August, Paola was branching out into her own creative artworks that utilize pulp paintings and printing. She is interested in collaborating with artists and has been working with etchers, painters and bookmakers on various projects. “An artist should not print just anything on a piece of handmade paper. Each sheet has a story that needs to be respected and cannot be changed so easily”, she says. How a drawing or a print can converse with the papers texture and color becomes the focus of her collaborative ideas.

I have returned home to Arizona inspired by Paola Lucchesi’s dynamism, adventures, knowledge and genuine warmth. I feel blessed to think I’ve made such a wonderful new friend in my life. I wish her all the best with her new venture,
Maiz Paper Studio.

All Rights Reserved — use of images/text by written permission of the artist only © Nash/Renfrow Productions