Friday, December 11, 2015

Terracotta Jewelry

                Terracotta is an Italian word meaning ‘cooked earth.’ Practical household kitchenware was made from this earthy material and it was also used to make exquisite terracotta jewelry.
                        I couldn’t find much details on this kind of jewelry except a very brief history. Terracotta jewelry is one of the oldest types of jewelry in the world, primarily from India and Bangladesh. India, since times unknown has always been associated with terracotta based arts and crafts. Various antiquities made of terracotta have been unearthed from archeological excavation sites; prominently figures of deities worshipped in those times.
                     Terracotta art has been flourishing since the Indus Valley civilization in India and its neighboring regions. The history of terracotta dates back to the Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilizations in India. The terracotta figurines that were unearthed were recorded having elaborate artistic jewelry. Archaeologists found a variety of ornaments, such earrings, ear studs, necklaces, pendants, and bracelets primarily with designs inspired by nature, animals, leaves, and flowers.
Although the terracotta industry was developed to its fullest in West Bengal, the art of making terracotta jewelry became famous in cities of Tamil Nadu such as Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, and Coimbatore.
                     As for the processing of this product…Terracotta is a hard red earthenware. The process of manufacturing involves purifying the clay, then shaping and designing the wet slab.  It is then dried by exposure to the sun. Next, the clay pieces are completely burned in a fire kiln so the clay develops a stone-like consistency. During the process of firing, the clay will take on either a natural brick color or shades of pink, grey, or white, depending on the quality of the clay. If the clay is burned along with sawdust, it will turn a natural black. These shaped and burnt clay pieces are then painted by hand with bright colors to complement traditional as well as modern outfits.

                     For this project I roped in some enthusiastic friends and we decided to make our own terracotta jewelry. I spent considerable amount of time beforehand looking at and learning from plenty of Youtube videos on how to make this terracotta jewelry. For inspiration and ideas, we each searched and saved some images we liked. We assembled on a cold winter day in comfy clothes, cranked up the heater and began. This was not a single day project; it took 3-4 hours to roll out the terracotta beads and make the pendants. After the pieces had dried (that took almost two days, maybe because of the wet cold weather), we met on another day to paint and string the jewelry complete. I chose air drying terracotta clay to avoid having to bake the pieces. It was a preciously different experience…spending time with friends, involving them in my project, talking and sharing, heart-felt conversations, some good potluck food, and of course these completed pieces as mementos.

                    Although I personally am a big believer in words, I will lean on the famous adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ because in arts and crafts, the pictures do bring visual understanding and significant impact. So I will let you read about this project of mine via plenty of these following pictures. 
Guess which one I made? (hint: I made two)

And after a couple rounds of spray glossy sealant...

this one is mine
And this one is mine

                 As you can see these pieces offer vast variety in their look; they can be carved, embedded with stones and gems, embossed with patterns and shapes, can be elaborate or simple, painted, and finished with different glazes and sheens. Organic terracotta jewelry can be designed as traditional or contemporary as we like. Terracotta jewelry, a proud heritage from ancient India offers a rustic and earthen appeal, this visually eye-catching experience offers an aesthetic and functional alternative to other jewelry.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Kashmiri Paper Mache Boxes

                         I love it when my projects just start off as a project and along the way it triggers a memory…..I have experienced that trigger a few times in this year-long journey that I have undertaken of exploring the rich traditional arts and crafts of India.  This project too began the same way; as a project, as a personal exploration of the paper mache arts of Kashmir; but in one deep lost moment when I was painting the box…memories came together and I realized I have a personal connect with this project. I remembered a small shiny round floral box with red and orange flowers, a black inside, and a triangle notch, a box that my mother had, that she used to keep in a small cupboard in her dressing table and that this box had some red glass bangles, a small stick doll and some other odds and ends in it. Memories are so unpredictable.….I didn’t remember Ma’s box when I was looking at pictures of paper mache boxes, or when I was planning out this project, or when I was researching the history of these paper mache objects. This memory of amma’s box came up when I was painting, when I am usually lost deep in the process. In recollecting that memory now when I was working on this project; took Ma’s box from just being an object that sat on her dresser to something that’s alive, something that is more interesting, more relevant and imbued with meaning. This linking of Amma’s box aggregated different incidents and small moments from my childhood, conversations with Ma, memories revolving around the box; giving the box a new valuable meaning and identity, a soul, an essence. Ma’s box has simply ceased to be just a box that I might have been okay with losing and is now of treasured valuable significance.

                        I called up dad, sent him a close similar picture of a paper mache box that I pulled from the internet and asked him to look for amma’s box. I remembered where it could be exactly and dad found it. Here’s Ma’s Kashmiri paper mache box: pictures taken on a phone camera by my dad in Bangalore, India. Dad remembers buying this box in Jammu at the local Raghunath bazaar in 1973 when they were stationed there right after their marriage. Memories….I am sure this triggered many for daddy too.

                             Many of my readers in India or from India will find these paper mache boxes familiar….we used to see them all the time in local exhibitions and handicraft fairs.
Like these:

                      Paper Mache is a delicate decorative art, born in Persia originally and brought to Kashmir by a Kashmiri Prince who spent years in a prison at Samarkand in Central Asia. The art was further encouraged by mogul emperors that came from Uzbekistan in Central Asia in the 15th and 16th century and ruled India for nearly 200-300 years. Inspired by the serene and beautiful valley of Kashmir, the lakes and meadows, the majestic snow clad mountains, this art took root in the simple homes of local people and evolved into a rich traditional folk art form. The creativity and romance of this art was then passed down the family through the generations.

                    Kashmiri paper mache objects are distinctively identifiable by the wonderfully vibrant, extremely detailed, and intricate small hand painted motifs of flowers bursting in full bloom and birds singing, and the illuminated finish on them.

                   The creation of a papier-mâché object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface). In the traditional method of making these paper mache objects, waste paper is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. After the excess water is drained, the soaked paper is mixed with rice straw, cloth, and copper soleplate to form a pulp.  This mixture is packed into molds of different shapes and left to dry for two to three days. After it dries, the shape is cut away in two halves and then glued again. The surface is then brushed with a layer of glue and gypsum, smoothened with a stone or hardened clay, and finally pasted with several layers of tissue paper. A neutral base color is painted on and now the piece is ready for the detailed painting work.

                     The intricate design painted are always done free hand and are usually of very small florals and birds in bright colors, and with a strong Persian flair. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as a highlight for certain motifs. Among other rich designs are 'Arabesque', done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and 'Yarkand', an elaborate design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over gold scroll work. The colors used were obtained by soaking and grinding vegetable and mineral dyes into pigments. Finally the object is sandpapered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer. This lacquer gives the finished product a high gloss and smoothness, and increases with every coat applied and is a very distinctive feature of Kashimiri paper mache products. Another noticeable feature is that the boxes have a triangle notch that works as a locking mechanism. The result is an exquisite art piece object that also serves as a utility piece. 
               Changing with the times, Kashmiri paper mache products have become highly stylized and modern and now include Christmas ornaments, coasters, napkin holders, some have real gold or silver used in them, some are made with wood or cardboard instead of paper mache as it is cheaper and less time and effort intensive.

Here's my attempt of the Kashmiri paper mache boxes:

I began with a store bought small light wood box that I base painted in a neutral warm white color. 

I decided on florals with twirling vines and paisleys, a pattern true to kashmir crafts, patterns that you might see on boxes and their famous pashmina shawls and other embroidery pieces. 

After several coats of a high gloss lacquer


Wikipedia has a history of different methods of paper mache as done in different parts of the world here:

Check out a large variety of products for inspiration here:

Videos to watch: