The age of papermaking may be widely waning, but master paper-maker Jacques Bréjoux continues to keep the art alive. Manning the helm of the Moulin du Verger paper mill for the past 50 years, Jacques practices his craft in the same manner as was common when the mill opened in the early 1500s.
The need for paper spiked during the early Printing Revolution, and thanks to the abundance of natural resources and water purity around the tiny town of Angouleme, France, the area became an industry hub. The Moulin du Verger was built on a tributary of the Charente River called the Eaux Claires, or “Good Waters” – and for good reason. The water proved to be a one-two-punch – not only did it power the mill, but it also happened to be one of the prime ingredients in the manufacturing of pulp – can you guess what the other ingredient was?
Old rags. Tattered clothes and discarded cloths were collected, tossed into the mill, then ground and beaten for up to 40 hours until it became a moist white pulp. From here, the pulp was mixed into a vat of water and a wooden frame of mesh wires was dipped into the vat, collecting the pulp. The final product is hung out to dry, et voila – a beautiful piece of stationery has been created.
At the height of production, there were 66 mills in the region around Angouleme, and business was booming. But thanks to the 19th Century Industrial Revolution, the paper making process became mechanized and many of the old mills were forced to close or pivot to specialty paper products like cigarette paper.
It wasn’t until there was a resurgence in demand for artisanal paper that Moulin du Verger returned to its roots – and master paper-maker Jacques Bréjoux was there to see it through. Not only did they go back to producing the high-quality paper they were known for, but Bréjoux also returned to the traditional methods and materials that had not been used in centuries. Today, in addition to sharing the craft with visitors, the mill continues to create materials that aid in the restoration and repair of archival materials.
Moulin du Verger remains one of the last paper mills in the region, and was listed as a Monument Historique in 1991. Preserving a tradition of making a high-quality product, Brejoux says there is an unquestionable link between a product and the technique used in its creation, and in the same way there is a link between Angoulême and paper.