Mary Hark’s interest in Kumasi, Ghana began with a year-long Fulbright fellowship that allowed her to get to know the local community. She and a team of students, artists and faculty from the Kumasi Center for Book and Paper Arts, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the Ghanaian artists’ collective, SaNsA, began collecting and documenting various natural fibers from the region. They noticed a huge amount of the invasive Paper Mulberry plant which had been introduced to Ghana in 1969 and decided to experiment. The kozo fiber commonly used in Japanese paper making is derived from the same plant and gives the paper excellent strength. The experiments proved highly successful and Hark and her team began producing handmade paper.
Given the booming textile industry, they also decided to incorporate recycled textile scraps into the process. Native plants such as avocado, plantain, cashew and papyrus were also processed and added to papers allowing for a wider range of options.
Currently, Ghana imports its fine art papers from Europe which are very expensive. With the help of Lee McDonald’s bicycle powered pulp refining machine, fine papers can now be produced locally. The Oracle Beater was developed in 2009 and consists of a bike connected to the beater. What sets the beater apart from a conventional blender is that it is much more powerful and has a controllable gap between the roll and blades that makes the pulp much more uniform allowing for the production of very fine papers. The contraption can be dismounted and transported to wherever paper production is taking place.