Top: March 15, 2016: 1600 paper Mache Pandas campaign showcase in Bangkok at Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lampong). These paper marche pandas to represent 1600 pandas left in the wild.
Above: Acrylic painted on paper mache elephant
If you think of paper mache as a craft for kids, you’re really missing out on the possibilities. To really understand the value of paper mache, you have to go back and take a look at the history and how the craft made its way around the world.
Paper mache began in China, which makes sense, considering China invented paper. They made helmets, which were strengthened by layer upon layer of lacquer. Japan and Persia picked up on the craft, and used the method to create masks. When paper-mache objects started moving into Europe, the West wanted to create art of its own.
France was responsible for the name “papier mache,” which literally means, “chewed paper.” In 1740, paper mache really took off for manufacturers. The British John Baskerville started to follow the Japanese method and creating objects that were lacquered in black, giving them a sophisticated appearance. His assistant Henry Clay eventually took over and invented a paper mache as durable as wood. Paper mache was being used to make everything from kitchen utensils to tables and lamps. In Norway, a entire church was built from paper mache and survived for nearly 40 years. William Allgood, an expert in “japanning,” which is what the paper-mache method was known as, brought the art to America. He was known for paper-mache clock cases that were also intricately decorated.
Now, paper mache is more for art and not for manufacturing. White glue is mixed with water to create a cream-like paste. Some people use flour or another starch instead of glue. Coat your “frame,” which could be a bowl, in Vaseline or cover thoroughly with plastic wrap. This makes it much easier to remove the paper-mache bowl from its mold. You would layer the soaked paper on the outside of the bowl. When one layer is dry, which takes about 2 hours, add another. When totally try, the new bowl can be loosened from its frame, and then cut, sanded, and painted to your liking.
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