Wood, Paper, Leather

Hanlie Coetzee is a book maker who creates 100% recyclable works of art in Cape Town

This female-run business in Malmesbury are turning recycled paper products into beautiful flowers and herbs, called Growing Paper.

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If there is one thing that has always fascinated Hanlie Coetzee, it is wood. Books are a close second. Maybe books are even ahead of wood... we simply say Hanlie loves wood and books.

The 33-year-old Hanlie is originally from KwaZulu Natal. At some point in her life she had to choose between her two passions and decided to study literature at the University of Pretoria: "Actually, I'm a writer," she says, and runs her fingers through her short, dark blond hair. Wood suits her, I think. It’s as natural as she is. Hanlie is completely authentic.

What does she write? Short stories, essays, articles for the web, it depends. Hanlie loves books so much that she made her own book one day. That's right, she didn’t write it; she designed it and made it with her own hands. Why? It just happened, she says. She was restoring old books and it inspired her to delve into making books a bit more. Her first self-designed book was for her husband. She carved his initials on the cover.

That was how Hanlie started creating 100% recyclable books that are also works of art. At some point she also incorporated her other passion, wood. She began to bind her books between pieces of wood and gave each book a special touch - sometimes decorated with inscriptions, slogans and phrases, or sketches and pictures inspired by her travels through Europe, Thailand and America. The results are pretty fabulous picture collections, note books and sketch books.

The art of recycling

"I wanted a product that is different. I wanted the books to grab people's attention. Furthermore, wood is so strong, so natural."

Sometimes she also uses leather to make books. Or old bicycle and car tyres. How does she get her materials? Hanlie is an advocate for recycling. She uses whatever she can find and what is still valuable in her eyes: "It just makes so much sense! Everywhere on the streets there is so much stuff lying around. Stuff that is still beautiful and that can still be used. I do not understand why people throw away everything, why they behave in such a careless way."

That is where her heart is at. To draw people’s attention to the value of things and respect the original process of making. What it means to produce something with care and attention to detail. All that stands in sharp contrast to mass production and the general thinking of our consumer orientated society. Nothing is permanent; everything is fading, as our resources are.

Sure, that's not an easy fight, especially for a book maker. A bit like David against Goliath. But yes, we all know who won in the end...

by Verena Lissek, photographs by Antonia Heil


If you are interested in the works of Hanlie Coetzee, check out her website at www.leatherbacks.co.za.

You can buy Hanlie’s books at stores like these in Cape Town:
HAAS | Rosa Street | Bo-Kaap 
Quirky + Me / Abode | Biscuit Mill | Albert Street
Fringe Arts | Shop 6 & 7 | V&A Hotel | V&A Waterfront
Book Lounge | Roeland Street

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