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1600 Pandas in Papier Mache

1600 Pandas in Papier Mache by David Osborne

A giant effort to save a giant. The Panda is the rarest bear on the planet and among the world's most threatened species.

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  • Date addedAdded: August 29, 2011
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The story begins with the formation of the World Wild Life Fund in 1961. Up to that time a number
of organisations were struggling to support conservation but with very limited funds. On 29th April,
in a meeting in Morges, Switzerland, the decision was made to establish World Wildlife Fund as an
international fundraising organisation to work in collaboration with existing conservation groups
and bring substantial financial support to the conservation movement on a worldwide scale. A
Manifesto was agreed and WWF was born.

The panda was its symbol from the start. It was the time when Chi Chi, the only panda in the western world had been brought from Beijing to London Zoo. The logo was then designed by Sir Peter
Scott from the preliminary sketches made by a Scottish naturalist, Gerald Watterson and has been key in the publicity ever since.

One advantage of the new logo was that it was instantly recognisable and easily reproduced in black and white. The youth group is known as Club Panda; the French Gites are known as Pandas; even the international shop is known as Shop Panda.

In 2008, Serge Orru, the Director General of the French section of the World Wildlife Fund had the
inspiration of displaying 1600 pandas (the number that are said to be the survivors of their species
in China currently), in different places in France. He was aware of the work of an artist and
sculptor who had developed the technique of mass production from papier mache, contacted him
and received an enthusiastic response to his idea.

Paulo Grangeon is a voluble, energetic, creative Frenchman. He has created what must be the world’s greatest display of papier mache artefacts up to the time of writing (21st August 2011). (That is of course unless you know something more astonishing!)

Having trained in art for five years, Paulo took up work as a sculptor in wood in Europe and California before being employed for twenty years as a designer in wood for an international factory which had exhibitions all over the world.

In 1999 in Frankfurt, he encountered the papier mache techniques used in Thailand. In the same year, he and his wife, Joelle, opened a shop in Grenoble entitled ‘Matiere Premiere’. This incorporates a
ceramic studio that is available for everybody to use. As he himself says, for everybody between one month babies to adults! There is also a small showroom for his papier mache work.

At about the same time he travelled several times to Thailand to learn their methods of working in
papier mache. This proved very successful and led to a close working relationship with the people
there and the development of ideas in which Paulo brought together his artistic ability together with
sculptural techniques and this newly learned method. When he goes there now to work, he will be
at it for twelve hours a day for two weeks without a break.

In Thailand the work is done in simple factories. They make a lot of animals for the mass market. For Paulo the greatest pleasure is in making the first model from which the copies are constructed. For this task he made six different originals from which the moulds were created.

From the first commission to the final delivery, being transported from Thailand in their own container, took only ten weeks – an amazing achievement. The pandas were displayed in Paris, Grenoble, Lyon, Bordeaux, Orlean, Palavas-les-Flots and many other towns. Later, the same amount was ordered by WWF Netherlands, also by Italy. Paulo was delighted to help bring some work and money to people he likes and respects in Thailand.

It seems too many to be true, but it is!

Since then he has had further orders, making a total of 5,300 adult pandas and 500 baby pandas. The 500 babies were made for the WWF World Wide 50th anniversary.

Not content with that, in 2009 the Overseas Ministry of France ordered some whales. There are now one hundred and twenty in three sizes – 2 metres, 1 metre and 80 centimetres. What will the
next challenge be?

Paulo is willing to explain his technique, which is as follows:

1) The original is sculpted in clay, or in polystyrene if it is big.

2) This is cut into sections which are moulded in plaster. If it is a big structure, the plaster is reinforced with coco fibre and metal.

3) A pulp of paper and cardboard, held together with rice paste is coated inside the mould - several layers each of 3 or 4mm thickness and left in the sun to dry.

4) The different sections are then glued together and cleaned with sand paper. Each panda consisted of twelve sections.

5) Once joined and smoothed, the model is covered with small pieces of white paper and painted white.

6) Finally the model is painted with acrylic and protected with matt acrylic varnish.

To buy a panda, head on over to the WWF Boutique.

You will first meet a popup window inviting you to sign up for the newsletter. Either fill this in and click 'Valider', or click the 'Xfermer' at the top right to close it. You will then be in the panda shop.

To see more panda photos and some wonderful photography, visit Franck Charel's site.