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Shades that light

Lady with the lamp: Jenny Pinto with her lit up creations at her studio — Photo: Murali Kumar K.

SOMETHING AS plain and limp as paper takes forms unimaginable in Jenny Pinto's hands to form glowing earthy shades for cosy corners in your home.

What goes into that paper lampshade is even more amazing. Banana stem fibres, fibres from the mulberry, sisal, assorted grasses, and even ladies-finger plant stalks and those of the gongura (hot chutney material in Andhra Pradesh)!

"What's different about my lampshades is that I make my own paper. I'm a paper-maker first and then a designer," smiles Jenny Pinto, who's been experimenting with handmade paper for the last five years at her studio tucked away in a quiet and dusty corner off Sarjapur Road.

You'll be greeted by alluring standing lamps with crushed-paper shades, sassy geometrical ones for the walls that cast a soft warm glow around, paper and wood lamps, classy paper-and-hand-cut granite lamps that speak the earth. You'll be amazed by the range and the simplicity at the same time. "I tend to choose materials that are equally organic to go with the paper, though steel can sometimes be very classy."

And matching her work is her design studio - as organic as the lamps themselves. If you visit her studio don't miss the floor and ceiling. The predominantly brick and stone studio has leaf imprints embedded onto its cement floor, making nature's art look truly phenomenal! And the paper-making machine is housed in a room whose ceiling has been imprinted with coconut palm leaves. Plants spring from hanging coconut shells.

Going organic

An ad-filmmaker who worked on big brands like Cadbury's and Johnson and Johnson, moved from Mumbai after a long and successful career, wanting to do something different and something with her hands, as she says. "Light and paper was the natural path to take," says the film-maker, who believes that paper and light create magic together.

Nearly 99 per cent of individuals and industries in India that make hand-made paper use cotton cloth waste. But Jenny, a self-taught paper maker who scoured for books on the subject when she started out, took to experimenting with plant fibres and various river grasses. "Paper from plant fibres takes easily to sculpting and organic shapes. Anything that has cellulose makes paper," says Jenny, pointing out to shades that look like papery crinkled oyster shells, or twisted paper that forms a streak of flame.

Each lampshade desires a certain texture and thickness of paper, made painstakingly at Jenny's workshop which also houses a full-fledged paper-making unit. Plant fibre is first cooked or boiled, beaten, sieved from water tanks, dried on cloth and pressed to drain out moisture. Then, it's shade-dried naturally. Jenny's other specialty is that no chemicals go into the paper-making process, whether it is the thinnest and tiniest of sheets or large thick ones being fleshed out. And making her own paper has the advantage that the paper is specifically made for a lamp. "My lampshades won't fit any old lamp that's lying at home, because the lamp and shade are integral to the design. I don't really start off with a design concept. It just takes life, once I start sculpting it. Very often the best designs come out of mistakes!"

Paper makes anything

Jenny, who makes paper seem extremely pliable, has also experimented with cora grass mat waste from handicraft units and incorporated weeds destroying Kerala's rainforests in an effort to recycle waste. "In fact, in a project I did with students of Mallya Aditi International School, students produced paper from organic kitchen waste."

The banana fibre paper she makes (her specialty) is so strong, she has to work shapes on it even when it is wet! Banana fibres and the fibre from the lokta grass that grows in the north-eastern parts of India, Nepal, specially at the foothills of the Himalayas, make the most translucent of papers, explains Jenny. And if you believe her, you can make paper out of practically anything.

And anything out of paper. She's now into paper weaving, collaborating with weavers to make paper scrolls for modern homes. In fact her experiment with studio-weaver Julie Kagti won them an Elle Décor International Design Award in 2004.

Most of her clients are young people just setting up home and looking for something to go with their organic décor. Architects and interior designers bring in their clients to choose what suits their ambience. She's done up restaurants and offices too. "A lot of people have taken my lamps back to the U.S. because hand-made paper is very expensive there," says Jenny. Her lampshades on an average range between Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 7,000.

Jenny Pinto can be contacted on:

Daily Bread features people who pursue their beliefs and choose not to be a part of the ho-hum and humdrum.


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