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Papyrus Art of Said, Delta Papyrus Center "When that 'little black dress' is not enough ... SHANGRILA!"

Papyrus Exhibit for Said, Delta Papyrus Center

Shadows of Pharoah

Pharoah Ankh-n-aton by Said, Delta Papyrus Center Not since the time of the last Egyptian Pharoah has there been a papyrus artist more acclaimed than Said (pronounced Saieed) of Delta Papyrus Center, 21 El Ghouria St., 3rd floor #17, Cairo, Egypt. Said is internationally known through such backpacker staples as the Lonely Planet Egypt as the premiere source for quality papyrus art in Egypt. Now Shangri-La of Ithaca, NY is featuring a wide range of Said's works in a tribute to this Egyptian art master.

The use of papyrus for writing goes back to extreme antiquity, as early as the First Dynasty. The oldest written papyrus known to be in existence is an account-sheet belonging to the reign of the Egyptian king Assa, which is dated c.2600 BCE. Papyrus export into Phoenicia was already in progress by the 12th century BCE.

Many papyri were written during the millennium of Greek and Roman control of Egypt, from the late fourth century BCE until the middle of the seventh century CE. Most were written in Greek since the administration of Egypt was largely conducted in Greek after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.

At one time during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius the plant was afflicted by a disease, and the year�s supply failed. Administration of the Roman Empire very nearly ground to a halt. The Egyptians maintained a lucrative monopoly on papyrus until the 12th century CE, when rag and wood-pulp paper, an idea from China, began to displace papyrus.

Our word "paper" derives from the word "papyrus," an Egyptian word that originally meant "that which belongs to the house" (the bureaucracy of ancient Egypt). The study of these papyri is called papyrology.

How Papyrus is Made

How Egyptian Papyrus is Grown

The Cypress papyrus plant grows in the Nile's fresh water. It has long roots and stems and the ancient Egyptians used it in building ships and making papyrus paper.

How Egyptian Papyrus is Harvested
The outer bark of the papyrus plant is removed and the inner pith sliced into thin strips, which are subsequently hammered to break the fibre's and drain the water. They are then re-immersed into ordinary water for three days until the fibre's become flexible and transparent.

How Egyptian Papyrus is Prepared
The papyrus strips are then cut to the required length and placed on a piece of cotton, each at a slight overlap making two layers, one horizontal and the other vertical.

How Egyptian Papyrus is Pressed

The papyrus sheets are put between two pieces of cardboard and placed under a hand press until dry. The cardboard is changed every eight hours and the drying process takes about three days.

How Egyptian Papyrus is Painted

Finally, the papyrus sheets are ready for painting and are given to qualified artists, such as Said of the Delta Papyrus Center. The mediums used are inks, oils, and gouache, although it is also possible to write, typewrite and draw on papyrus.

Delta Papyrus Center

Pyramids of Giza with Camel by Said, Delta Papyrus Center

Said created many famous techniques for painting on papyrus. He was an early student of Dr. Hassan Ragab, who had reinvented the lost art of Egyptian papyrus. In antiquity, papyrus was an Egyptian monopoly and its manufacture was a guarded secret. Indeed, the papyrus plant became a symbol of Lower Egypt, and was regarded as so typically Egyptian that it could be regarded as a metaphor for the entire country.

Dr. Hassan Ragab Papyrus making was revived in 1969, when an Egyptian scientist named Dr. Hassan Ragab reintroduced the papyrus plant to Egypt from the Sudan and started a papyrus plantation near Cairo on Jacob Island. He also had to research the method of production. Unfortunately, the ancient Egyptians left little evidence about the manufacturing process. There are no extant texts or wall paintings and archaeologists have failed to uncover any manufacturing centers. Most of our knowledge about the actual manufacturing process is derived from Pliny the elder's Natural History and modern experimentation. Dr. Ragab finally figured out how it was done, and now papyrus making is back in Egypt after a very long absence. We should note that Dr. Hassan Ragab had a remarkable career with over 42 inventions credited to his name as an engineer. After World War II, he also served time in Washington, DC as Egypt's military attach� and later became the first Egyptian ambassador to China, with other ambassadorial posts to Italy and Yugoslavia.

Depending on the final process, some papyri may look very different than other papyri. When papyrus strips are soaked in water for about four to six days and pressed for an additional six days, the sheet is brighter and the color will be light tan, though some parts of the strips will be darker in color. However, sometimes the strips are left in water for longer than a week, or as long as a month. Then it is pressed for as long as two months. This results in a sheet that takes on a dark brown solid color, which appears more aged. This latter process causes edges of the papyri to have a hairy, or fringed appearance as a result of losing some of the natural glue in the strip and the tissue that connects the veins. While the dark papyrus looks more authentic and is actually a more expensive production technique, the light colored papyrus sheets are stronger. However, this may matter little if the intent is to frame and display the artwork.


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