Paper and Threshold

The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures

 

Dorothy Field

Many, probably most, traditional cultures see physical thresholds as more than a place to hang a door. Thresholds are liminal, often standing in for distant places such as sacred mountain passes. Crossing a threshold can symbolize the passage between being in the womb and being born, being single and being married, being alive and dying. Paper or thread placed at our everyday physical thresholds reminds us of less tangible crossings and of each individual’s connection to mystery and wonder.

Cultures use materials that reflect their own myths, their own sense of where life is held. In India, thread and cloth are often used as the mnemonic device to remind people to pay attention. In other parts of Asia, particularly Japan, Korea, Burma, and Nepal, paper takes up its paradoxical role as a bridge enabling spirits to cross and a barrier keeping dark forces out. Many ancient customs continue to be observed with little current comprehension. When shapes cut out of white plastic are substituted for paper, we know amnesia has set in.

In this essay, illustrated with over 200 of her photographs, Dorothy Field examines a wide range of papers at thresholds in many parts of Asia, and its uses in Shinto, shamanic, and Buddhist temples, as well as paper kites, lanterns, doors, and windows. She considers why one culture uses paper, another thread, and a third, barley. And there are also examples of paper used for the sheer fun of it, as bursts of color and celebration.

The Foreword  is by Jane M. Farmer.

108 pages • 207 images in full color • cloth, sewn  •  2007

 

ISBN: 9780979797408  •  $20.00

Reviews

Amanda Degener: “I have craved a new book on the subject of hand papermaking. There are already a lot of great process-focused books, but I wished for one that contained ideas. I could not imagine what that book would be like, who would write it, or who would publish it. The arrival of Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures by Dorothy Field from The Legacy Press granted my wish….Doorways and rituals in all cultures are a transition to new, between inside and out, between the domesticated and the wild.…Field suggests that these sacred protectors over doorways function as a symbol of that interrelationship of man, nature, and spirit. In documenting this phenomenon, the book is packed with color photographs of talismans that commonly occur in simple settings in a natural environment. How many Westerners could make these connections? I believe that Field was able to create this book after her countless trips over many years and because of the unique way she “sees.” This is Dorothy Field’s magnum opus, which incorporates her lifetime perspective as a scholar, spiritual person, hand papermaker, poet, and visual artist.…This book will inspire artists who use paper, scholars of Asian culture, educators, creators of handmade paper, and writers who consider metaphor. The color photographs with detailed captions will gratify both those who browse and those who thoroughly read. Why did this book win a bronze medal from the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of Essay/Creative Non-Fiction? Because the judges savored this handsomely designed interdisciplinary creation. Paper and Threshold may assist you to go through a figurative doorway towards your own spiritual relationship with handmade paper.” Excerpted with permission from Hand Papermaking 23, no. 2 (Winter 2008): 42–43. © 2008 by Hand Papermaking, Inc. (www.handpapermaking.org). All rights reserved.

 

Dineke McLean: “Beware. Dorothy Field’s latest book will, at first glance, seduce you with its 200 beautiful colour photographs and accompanying captions of eastern spiritual practices using papers and textiles, clay, string and even butter to keep the gods on side. However the text of the book is scholarly and so informative that this fascinated reviewer had to read the book twice before she could articulate her impressions.…The text presents the reader the opportunity to become familiar with terminology and concepts not usually encountered by western spiritual observances. Happily there is a glossary included at rear of the book but given the almost text book nature of this book I would have appreciated an index as well.…Published by [The] Legacy Press who specialise in publications to do with paper, books and printing. Paper and Threshold has recently won the Bronze Medal Independent Publishers Book Award. Highly recommended for reference and inspiration to paper, fibre and textile creatives. This book is also available in a limited edition of unbound copies affording the opportunity to binders and makers of artist’s books to personalise their own copy.” “Hidden Pleasures.” IAPMA Bulletin 44 (2008): 7–8.

 

Jill Willmott: “This book is a personal perspective on the spiritual significance of paper in Asia resulting from Dorothy Field’s numerous travels over many years in Japan, Korea, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, India, Thailand, Burma [Myanmar] and China. Keenly interested in the countries, their paper crafts and spirituality, the author sought out and meticulously recorded the instances where she encountered the presence of paper at crossover points or thresholds between two different and often contradictory spheres.…[This book] is well researched, written, designed and edited….I would recommend it to anyone interested in paper or the numinous spiritual underpinnings of life – particularly in Asia and the liminal borderline character of human ritual activity. One last suggestion, in addition to the Glossary of foreign words at the back of the text, I found my dictionary a useful companion to the reading of this book.” Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild Newsletter 25, no. 3 (Winter 2007): 14–15.

 

Lucy David: “Throughout the anxiety of the [recent Iowa City] flood, the actual flooding and continued clean up, Dorothy Field’s book became an elixir for my soul.…Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures by Dorothy Field, Foreword by Jane Farmer, is a soulful compilation of scholarship and artistry. It is a masterful and inspirational homage to paper – and to those who make and use it – from its book design to its textural content and photographs.…an intriguing photograph of knotted paper cords left upon rocks, begins the journey through this beautiful book. As an object, it is lovely to hold and open.…Dorothy Field has long been researching and recording paper’s uses in Asian countries. On nearly every page are her incredible photographs illustrating her insights into religious practices, metaphors and symbolism of the numinous qualities of paper, thread, cloth, rice, and other sacred materials.…Paper and Threshold is an eclectic collection of fascinating summations explaining the overlaying influences of animism, shamanism, Shinto, Buddhist, and Hindu spiritual practices within the different cultural settings and throughout the flow of history, as they influenced the evolution, incorporation and use of paper and related materials.…By the impressive observations from her travels one is led through an historical review of the history of papermaking, studies in cultural anthropology and through a compendium of religious rituals and spirituality.…One can feel the connections and deep regard she has for all of the papermakers, craftspeople, and objects she features.…This inspirational book is a researcher’s delight that preserves the practices and keeps them as continued influences for our lives. As Jane Farmer so wisely states in her informative Foreword: ‘Paper and Threshold is a provocative commentary that beckons us to follow and inspires our participation.’” Guild of Book Workers Newsletter, no. 179 (August 2008): 10–11.

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