[Note: Writer Charles Jones & Artist/Painter Molly Ramolla lived and worked in an old weathered barn on Stage Road near Duartes Tavern. Later they moved to the artist colonies in New Mexico-Arizona, where Charles passed away years ago.]
While digging through my research files, I came across a 1984 letter from Charles to me. He hadn’t been feeling well; he and Molly were about to make a big change in their lives.
Charles Jones: “We are about to make a move. Next Fall we are off to Arizona, a little town called Bisbee, 100 miles south of Tuscon. Felt better there, cheap to live, tired of pain and the gallery…”
Attached was/is a story about wife Molly and her adventures with South Coast papyrus. Other than the rusty footprint of the paper clip on the upper left corner of the white paper, the typed letter and attached story appear nearly unread. Clean and white.
Charles painted himself as a controversial writer (during the 1970s/80s “war” between the Coastside’s developers & no-growthers) when the Sierra Club published his book called “A Separate Place,” featuring South Coast photographer Susan Friedman’s magnificent b/w images.
Miss Friedman was lucky to have met and enjoyed the rare opportunity of taking pictures of her Pescadero/La Honda subjects who were also her neighbors and friends. As I recall, Susan Friedman then worked in a classic old barn, her studio on Highway One, way south of Pescadero, when you could count on one hand the number of cars that moseyed on by.
Who can forget Emma Duarte? Emma was the Pescadero version of Betty Crocker, the perfect 1950s-style cook pictured on pink and white packages of cake mix. Emma was well-traveled, having visited most corners of the world but at Duarte’s Tavern she was ? Always wearing the proper black shoes with
I bought several pieces of Molly’s work, her paintings, many of which evoked moods which I then favored. I didn’t have the cash to buy a painting so we worked out a payment plan. I took home, for example, what I call ” rain storm over Pescadero.” Each I wrote Molly a check for something like $10 and mailed it to her in Pescadero. Going to the gallery in person was deadly: There was always something I could see on the walls of my house.
(Because I am by nature “a keeper,” I still have a few of the canceled checks I wrote Molly.)
In the March 31, 1984 letter to me, Charles advised of places I might look for a writing job. The fancy places he mentioned were above my skill level, or I thought they were, and that’s all that counted Then he added the postscript below….]
Charles Jones: “It occurred to me after I wrote this and put it in an envelope, that when we leave, no one will be doing papyrus anymore. Doing what, you say? When Molly discovered how to do the native California reed the way the Egyptians did, I started doing a lot of research, and one result is that no one in this country does this. We are in touch with the Papyrus Institute in Cairo, and have sent seeds and so on. There is no reed in Arizona, and there will be no Molly in California. ….”
Reed of the Nile
Story by Charles Jones, 1980
Along with the origins of the wheel and of language, the beginnings of papyrus are lost in unrecorded time. Even among surviving writings, there is no mention of just how Egyptians, Greeks or those who came after made paper from ‘Cyperus papyrus, the reed of the Nile.’ There are a few illustrations, especially of the use of the reed for boats, sails, mats and shoes but, no one knows exactly how papyrus was made as a paper.
We do know that papyrus was as important to the ancient world as a paper is to society now. Pliny the Elder once warned that a complete breakdown of commerce might result when a bad crop year was forecast for papyrus. The huge rolls of papyrus stored for the year would not have lasted long, and the best grades of paper were saved for special uses. The English word “protocol” comes from the Greek ‘protokollon,’ which literally means “the first glued-on,” referring to the finest quality of papyrus, which was put on the rolls first.
Today, there are a number of places where a reed paper is made, but the Papyrus Institute in Cairo, Egypt, claims to make the only paper from ‘Cyperus papyrus.’ At the institute, paper is made using only the inner portion of the fiber. Lightest in color, the inner strips are placed in a crisscross pattern, then pressed and rolled with equipment designed for this special paper.
In the United States, Molly Romolla of Pescadero, California is one of the few reed-paper makers. Using a native California plant, the giant or great bulrush (‘Scirpus acutus’), Ms. Ramolla makes paper entirely by hand tools. The bulrush, triangular in cross section like ‘Cyperus papyrus,’ is first harvested from around farmers’ ponds. It is sliced, made into bundles and soaked for three to five months. The sliced fiber is then soft enough to pound into a sheet on a wooden panel; it is then dried in the sun. Variations in color, from a dark brown to white, are obtained by using outer fiber for the darker portions, inner fiber for lighter areas, and the sediment from the soaking for white. The sheets are excellent for watercolors.
Ramolla also uses the fibers themselves to create images, “painting,” as it were, with the fibers. She also makes castings, moldings and sculptures of papyrus. A soft, supple paper–almost like cloth–can be made by burnishing the material with a hard, smooth substance such as ivory or polished shell, which the Egyptians used.
The creation of this kind of papyrus is a very simple technique once it is mastered. Molly Ramolla experimentecd for five years, using bleaches, boiling, lye and vegtable and animal glues in various combinations, but no such things are needed. In one publication she read that the absolutely essential ingredient was the water of the Nile. Not so. The absolutely essential ingredient is patience.