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STUDIO VISIT: NATALIA WOODWARD

I first heard of Natalia of Bat Flower Press through her work with Stone Barns. It was an Instagram post, actually, and it stuck in my memory. Papermaking from waste and local invasive weeds—of course! As foraged materials and expired flowers had become a large part of my own work, her commitment to reducing waste felt kindred. I have loved watching Natalia's unique process ever since.

When brainstorming packaging for Pirtti, I asked Natalia to create a card that I could include with each shipment. 


Above: Natalia made cards with the Pirtti mantra, "Harmony is always possible."


Natalia
 created beautiful handmade paper, tinted with walnut dye and letter pressed by Gretta, her trusty printing press. The result was better than I could have dreamed. A special touch for each Pirtti package. A reminder to be kept or a ceremonial offering for the compost pile. 

Below, my conversation with Natalia.

ON CREATIVITY

AMK: What drew you to work in this medium?

NW: While I have only recently become a papermaker, I’ve always been fascinated by it’s delicate strength. A single sheet can carry the fate of a people, nation or religion.

I became a collector of rare and fine papers at a young age and always dreamed of making my own. In college, I was drawn to printmaking—its process, its complexities and its history. 

Bat Flower Press is the amalgamation of these two great loves.

AMK: In your creative process, what is something that didn’t work out—what did it teach you?

NW: It was pretty early on in the startup of Bat Flower Press that I decided that all of my paper would be made in-house, and entirely from wasted materials. I didn’t start Bat Flower Press with this intention, it just came to me one day. Creating the processes around this vision took a lot of failure. What it taught me was that you really cannot make compromises when it comes to the "why" of doing what you do. 

In general, I like to fail a lot as an artist. If I’m not failing, I’m not pushing the limits of what I believe to be possible. It’s one of my biggest struggles as a business owner because this mindset works against profitability. Profit comes from finding a process that works and repeating it.

However, when I’m making beautiful paper from invasive species or spent coffee cups in my studio, I find great joy in the idea that nobody else is doing that.


"I like to say, I’m not an artist, nature is."


AMK: How does nature influence your work?

NW: Nature is the basis of most of my work. I spend a lot of time in the woods foraging for my art. There is great joy and satisfaction from finding plants, mushrooms, or rocks that I can use—and seeing the magical colors or textures they produce.

ON LIVING WITH OBJECTS

AMK: What’s something you found or bought recently that you love?

NW: Good one! Last year I had the opportunity to visit the Brimfield Antique show. I had gone to help my fiancé with his work, but my eyes were peeled for what I might want for myself. After a long, hot and exhausting day, we were heading back to the car, empty-handed. It was then he called my name, with maximum excitement. 

"Natalia LOOK!"

He had found an 1800’s book press made of solid wood. Certain it would call for a pretty penny we meekly inquired with the vendor, 

"How much?"

"50 bucks!"

"Deal!"

Bookmaking was also a HUGE love of mine (stacks of paper, ha ha!). I have always been on the hunt for a great bookpress. It’s a piece that has been very useful for me thus far and something I know I will have forever.

Above: Natalia with her treasured 1800's bookpress.


AMK: What’s something that you use every day, but still brings you joy?

NW: My printing press, Gretta :) 

She’s a 1903 Chandler & Price. Since I’ve had her she’s made some 45,000 impressions. Every time I start her up and her gears start clanking it brings me great joy. She runs just as good as the day she was built. I can’t imagine how many amazing things she’s printed and will print in the future!

Above: Natalia in the Muse Top and Gretta, her printing press.


AMK: What do you appreciate most about handmade goods? 

NW: Handmade goods spark my curiosity. If I buy something from Amazon it's pure utility without secondary benefit. When I purchase something handmade, I am inspired to learn and know more, to understand its history and to value it more. An object made by a person from beginning to end carries a lot of meaning and interest—about the object itself and the person that made it.

ON SUSTAINABILITY 

AMK: What’s something that you learned recently about the environment?

NW: In 2019 I rode my bicycle from Canada to Mexico and learned a lot. When you’re outside all day and all night for 3 months you pick up a lot of environmental knowledge! 

We met some new friends in British Columbia who were in the arbor and logging industries. BC is a sprawling natural landscape with endless forest, and coniferous lumber is the territory’s #1 export. I learned about how "sustainable" deforestation isn’t that sustainable at all, with the replanting of trees drastically decreasing the diversity of a forest. When a tree is cut down, it’s replaced with fast-growing species designed to be cut down again. Learning that ancient Redwood forests are "being cut down for toilet paper" is a moment in time that I will never forget. 

It was these learnings that changed how I viewed paper and ultimately shaped how I decided to form my business.

 

Above: Paper made from 100% post-harvest rye, marigold and indigo mix, walnut, and old recycled envelopes.

AMK: What do you want to try next? What would you like to do better?

NW: Water is a big resource for my business, and in my view, our most at-risk resource on the planet. Currently we reuse our papermaking water to the max, but I think we can do better.

The next step is to collect rainwater for our papermaking process.

AMK: What does circularity mean to you and how does it fit into your daily life?

NW: Circularity holds a lot of weight for me. In my daily life at Bat Flower Press, I form partnerships with companies and organizations to take their waste, turn it into paper, and then sell it back to them at a reasonable price for them to utilize. In the past I worked with farms to collect post-harvest grain stubble and make paper with it. Most recently I partnered up with The Museum of Modern Art, and I now collect a lot of their mat board off-cuts that would otherwise turn to the landfill. I have high hopes they will buy my paper and sell it in their stores. We’re developing a more robust program for this that I am really excited about. 

In my personal life, I try to repurpose anything I can. Rubber bands are my favorite.


You can find Natalia and Bat Flower Press online at batflowerpress.com and on Instagram at @batflowerpress. Natalia is wearing our new Muse Top in size XS/S.

— Anne-Marie

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