Handmade Books, Puerto Vallarta Style
If you find yourself dining at stylish Puerto Vallarta restaurants such as deSantos or Blue Shrimp where your meal is served at the table over sheets of rolled bond paper rather than a tablecloth, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “How wasteful!” Well, think again. For over a decade, Pini Salcedo and Carlos Uribe, two skilled Puerto Vallarta artists, have taken it upon themselves to partner with the aforementioned restaurants, making regular pickups and transforming the paper “tablecloths” into unique handmade books.
Recycling materials has been a cornerstone of these books, along with other products they have produced since their chance meeting 12 years ago. At the time, Salcedo was a crafting veteran, producing gifts and accessories and designing her own clothing lines. Uribe, who began working at deSantos when the restaurant opened some 10 years ago, quickly identified the paper as an opportunity to create a product unique to Puerto Vallarta. Since then, they have experimented with assorted book designs, along with other products, taking advantage of available materials. At some point, they even operated a few retail outlets where they sold their products. But in the spirit of simplifying things, they eventually decided to close the shops, opting to focus their energy solely on the creative process and rely on others to distribute the merchandise.
To see the operation up close, we followed the Río Cuale upstream, along the dusty Paso Ancho main road, and found ourselves, having barely driven some 10 minutes, in the middle of a truly rural neighborhood. Surrounded by roosters and donkeys and a multitude of adopted dogs, the artists live and work in a small cottage next to the Cuale. Two assistants work with them through the laborious process of rinsing the paper collected from the restaurants, from which food particles and other materials must first be removed. Soaking the paper for long periods of time weakens its fibers, making it easy to mash to a watery pulp, which is eventually placed in deckles—a device in papermaking used to shape the pulp into specific sizes of paper. Once dry, these sheets of paper are used to assemble the books, whose covers are then decorated with a variety of objects, including beads and seeds.
The artists have also found a second life for orange peels, which are carefully cleaned, flipped over and dried, resulting in unique, little aromatic boxes—yes, the citrus aroma lingers! Intrigued, we asked if they had worked out a deal similar to that with the restaurants with a few juice-vending places in town. In fact, oranges must be handled carefully to keep the peel from breaking, making such an arrangement next to impossible. We also discovered it takes over a half an orange (more like two thirds of it) to make either a box or a lid. Needless to say, the couple goes through a fair amount of oranges to create their boxes, a necessity we didn’t mind at all.
Always looking for ways to repurpose their materials, Pini Salcedo and Carlos Uribe are presently developing a third product line with empty soda cans, which they are transforming into jewelry and photo frames. And when called upon, they are also responsible for creating the beautiful menu covers found at their recycling restaurants, plus those at Daiquiri Dick’s.
Looking at photographs of their products, you may sense a certain familiarity with them. In fact, chances are you have already come across them, as they are available at many gift stores throughout Banderas Bay, such as Paradise Plaza and Vallarta Adventures’ gift shop in Nuevo Vallarta, and also at gift stores in Plaza Galerías and Plaza Neptuno in Puerto Vallarta.
Should you wish to learn the craft of making books by hand, you will have to look elsewhere, unfortunately, as the artists do not offer any type of instruction. But you can rest assured that purchasing one of their creations means that you’ve invested in a one-of-a-kind gift that, in its own way, is being mindful of Earth’s limited resources.