Manuel Arias Silveira
In the richly historic area of Holguín, Cuba, is a print shop, which for years has steadily been crafting an array of paper products: from greeting cards to beautifully designed journals, novels, and books of poetry. In doing so, paper—a seemingly routine material—is elevated into something approaching the most refined original artwork imaginable. “We draw on the old tradition of printmaking in Cuba to do what we do,” explains proprietor Manuel Arias Silveira. “The handmade books, for example, originated in an era when Cuba suffered a major economic depression. There were few books available to Cubans, who are avid readers, so we started making our own.”
From his studio in Holguín (incidentally, one of Santa Fe, New Mexico’s “Sister Cities,”) Silveira initially lamented the looming obsolescence of antique print-making technologies. In the mid-1990s, after acquiring and arduously restoring historical print-making machinery including a cutter, linotype press, and a printing press, Manuel decided to launch Editorial Cuadernos Papiro (Papyrus Books Publishing House). Today, the bustling workshop publishes limited-edition original works printed on 18th and 19th century presses, written by some of Cuba’s most beloved authors and illustrated by renowned artists.
The process begins, of course, with paper, which the studio produces on-site from recycled natural fibers; additionally, the studio uses organic dyes for type and illustration. Though some of Editorial Cuadernos Papiro’s antique machines come all the way from Soviet-era days, printing first arrived in Cuba in the early 1700s, and Havana was the seventh city in Latin America to print on a large scale. That changed during the Communist crisis, which greatly reduced access to tools and materials and unfortunately more or less brought the proud practice of literature production to a halt.
Today, the studio’s richly textured paper products and heirloom-quality books have gained them an international following. In addition to a busy production schedule, Editorial Cuadernos Papiro also offers workshops and participates in international book fairs, where their work to preserve and expand upon Cuban art-making traditions has won them numerous awards and accolades.