Paper, which has become an inevitable part of our life, is made in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibrous substances. The word ‘paper' is derived from the plant papyrus, abundantly found in parts of Egypt. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used this to produce thick paper-like material for their calligraphic needs, which turned out to be one of the predecessors of paper that we know today. Later with innovations over the technique, the ancient artisans shifted to a type made from the extracts derived from inner barks of the mulberry, fig, and Daphne trees.
According to history, the birthplace of modern paper is from the territories of the Chinese Han Dynasty in 105 AD. Archaeological evidence from 2nd century BCE China shows types of paper made largely from hemp. It is believed that the invention of this early form was accidental after clothes made of hemp were left too long in water after washing, and as a result, a residue formed was then pressed into new material. Over time, fibers from different plants, the stems of grasses, vegetable waste, tree bark, and even rags were blended in a constant quest to find the cheapest method that would produce the highest quality paper. This was almost achieved during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) where the main raw material was fixed to be the barks of the mulberry tree, the period also saw new inventions in its production techniques.
High-quality paper was exported to a foreign land by China via Silk Road, along with silk products. Thus very soon, the knowledge of papermaking spread to Korea, Japan, Central Asia, and Tibet, from where it traveled to India. By the 11th century, Europe also got acquainted with the technique, and they took the pioneering steps to refine it with the earliest known paper mills using waterwheels. Later with Western influence, a new kind of wood-based paper was invented. Padding and Wrapping, being the earliest known uses of paper, was first used to cover delicate bronze mirrors during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han from China. Then with the Song reign (960–1279), the world witnessed the first known paper-printed money. During the period, paper was also used to produce topographical and military maps as well. With time, the paper took shapes of hats, armor support, a fragment of windows, packets for tea storage, toilet papers, paper screens, sheets, curtains, clothes, animal covers, etc.
Paper-mache is a blended material consisting of paper pulp, bound with an adhesive used to make utility or decorative items. It was almost during the same decade when the paper was discovered that people in China started to make paper mache as a way to reuse the paper. In India, paper mache is mainly utilized in Kashmir. Starting with decorative items and jackets of books, the paper covered many items of 15th century Kashmir under the rule of King Zain-ul-Abidin, who had special patronages for the art. The tradition of using paper-mache on woodwork to be colourfully painted with different designs practiced in those periods is very much in practice even today. Mrs. Ramani Rao from Nagpur is an artist based in Nagpur, famous for creating Paper Mache dolls for three decades. Inspired by her mother, she started this as a hobby but now employs 16 handicapped women from the locality, providing them a means for living through this doll-making activity. She is an active participant in prominent exhibitions across the country as well as foreign lands like Norway, the US, Denmark, etc. The art center tries to give a glimpse of our Indian Classical dance forms, Folk dances, Tribes of India, Brides and grooms of India, etc., through their work.