There is intimate connection between the working hand and the head of the craftsman, as the artisan interknit interconnection between knowing and working through the experience and action of craft. And according to German political theorist Karl Marx, craftsmanship is broadly known as a ‘form giving activity’. He has unique views that the connection that the material object comes to have with the individual self and the social relations surrounding them, thereby affecting the constitution and nature of both.
Through the relationship of labor, the self establishes a connection with the physical object and this connection are linked to the process of fulfillment and realization. The papier mache art of Kashmir is extended to explore how this jewel of Kashmir emerges as the expression of the astounding experiences and heritage cultural histories of the Kashmiri artists.
Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of Papier Mache and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world. As these skills are passed down from generation to generation, son taking the place of his father and father taking place of his father this art has been handed down from family to family.
The technique of papie-mache was introduced in Kashmir by the Persian name Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who is also known as Shah-i-Hamdan in Kashmir. After returning from the detention in Samarkand, Sultan Zain-ul-Abedin established first paper industry in Kashmir in 1417-67 AD. Sultan Zain-ul-Abedin also brought artisans along with him who were mastered in various skills. They want to introduce new trades of crafts and skills in India. Also these craftsmen were highly skilled in other handicrafts too such as wood carving, copper engraving and carpet weaving.
For writing manuscripts the Kashmiri paper or Khosur Kagaz became famous and was in high demand across the worldwide. Also when there was expeditious growth of paper industry the demands for pens along with bookbinding and craft of making decorative book covers, jackets in papier-mache also proliferate. Kashmir papie-mache is a handicraft which involves the transfiguration of paper pulp into entangled decorated artifacts such as papier mache boxes, bowls, wall clocks, baskets, elephant models, cups and many more objects.
Papier Mache has its Iranian name ‘Kar-i-Qalamdani’ in Kashmir. In this Iranian Word the ‘Qalamdani’ words means ‘Pen case’. In the beginning this art was restricted to making Pen cases only then gradually it forms as a worldwide and Omni Object Art.
How Papier Mache Art is made ?
To make this beautiful piece of art the artists are divided into two distinct groups who are responsible for the final product. The first is Sakhtasaz who will make the object with the paper pulp and the second group of artists is answerable to create the ornamentation of the surface with colors and they are known as Naqqash.
The Making of Object: Sakhtsazi
The Sakhta-saz’s are the one who is involved with this process to prepare a paper pulp by manually. The process to make pulp is done by pounding a mixture of discarded paper, cloth, the straw of rice plant, copper sulfate. After the process of making pulp is then the paper pulp is mixture is mixed with locally prepared rice-based glue which is called ‘Atij’. Then it is applied onto the molds made of wood, brass or Plaster of Paris and is left to dry in the sun.
The artwork is then carefully separated from the mold using a tool like saw and then rejoined using dense glue. The sealed joint is then smoothened by rubbing it slowly with a file made of wood known locally as ‘kathwa’. The object so formed is known as ‘kalib’.
The prepared ‘Kalibs’ are now handled by the women folk who process it further. It is followed by a multiple coats consisting of Saresh mixed with chalk powder and water. The Kalib is then left to dry. The smoothening process is then followed by rubbing the object with ‘Kirkut’ which is either a small piece of over burnt brick, pumice stone known as Sangh-i-paaya. The kirkut is gently rubbed along the surface of the object. The fourth coat consists of rubbing the object with bare hands.
The Painting of Surface: Naqashi
Naqashi is the kind of process in which the object is covered with thin strips of butter paper, then it forms a layer between the paint and the plaster covering the artwork so it prevents the breakages and cracks. This layer is covered with a coat of base paint. The Naqqashi now begins to transform the blank molds into beautiful artwork. Naqashi gives the art appealing touch to the object.
Papier Mache demonstrates the intense emotion of the artist. The colors which are used in Papier Mache Naqqashi are made up organically. The vegetable based colors are used by the artists. Earlier traditionally the colors for painting were made from natural pigments and minerals. Although, it is a tedious process to prepare color organically.
The base coat is commonly done of metallic colors, blazing gold, shinning silver as the artist breathes new life into the art. Mostly metallic paints are used to give illuminating effect. After painting of motifs is done the use of gold and silver is used to highlight them. When the whole process of Naqqashi is done then at last the beautiful art work is covered with a layer of varnish to give it more shiny effect.
This entire procedure requires us to see the vision of artist as it requires patience. As the final object is acclaimed with the hardship done by the artisans.
The papier mache objects produced in Kashmir today varies from Christmas ornaments to coasters and includes boxes of every permissible size and shape. These artifacts are immensely decked up and decorated as they are light weight and also durable. Their coating of lacquer protects them from water and gives them extra durability.
A finished masterpiece reflects the keen attention to detail and sheer effort put in to produce such a work of extraordinary aesthetic appeal. Every piece of papier mache art work is individually created by the artists and also tells us a unique story to tell.
The outlines which are drawn to exhibit the piece of papier mache art it is outlined with a ‘Zarda’ or yellow color then the remaining spaces are designed with floral work and it is also painted with many hues majorly white color to give a thought provoking look. The art lies here, as it is a collectable view to see where an artist uses his fullest potential to exhibit the memorable pattern and artistic designs in rich and subdued colors. Here the opening work is called ‘Partaz’ and it is done with any exclusive color.
The story of Paint Brush
During that era the bristle of the hair of goat, cats are set in handles of features by means of silken thread. Then the inferior bristles are trimmed up into proper shape. With the use of these handmade brushes the craftsmen used to demonstrates a mastery and deep understanding of exquisite designs.
The major differentiation of the colors used from others is that the colors which are used for Papier Mache would not loose intensity and strength when the motifs are kept in direct sunlight and also in water for a long time.
The mineral colors are also used to paint the motifs but the preparation is utmost difficult as at the first place, the minerals are tied in a sack or a bag of cloth and moistened with water and then roughly beaten. This broken wet material is grounded into paste and the paste is dried into fine powder. Finally, this powder is mixed with glue and water. The material is then rigorously stirred till a fine color in the shape of mixture is obtained.
As the colors which are used for Papier Mache is organic and vegetable sourced colors so the white color is made up of white lead which came from Russia, the body white rang is then prepared from a local stone called ‘Shallaneen’. The ultramarine blue color is prepared from the blue stone. The brown rang is extracted from a clay and the yellow colors is prepared from the locally presented wild plants and flowers. The red color is derived from cochineal, log wood and local forest wood. Also sometimes the red color is also obtained from saffron.
Also the indigo leaves are used to make violet and blue colors. From the extract of green and dried walnut skins the light brown color is made. And the bold black color is made up from lamp blacks, walnut and burnt cow dung.
Papier-Mache is so alluring to the people these days as a huge variety of richly painted products like flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes of various shapes and sizes, bangles, mirror holders and frames, lamp vases, screens and items of furniture are made for their exotic appeal and decorative vintage charm. The exclusive packaging items, trinket boxes are also made by papier-mache. Also daily utility items are also made like trays and cups.
In Ladakh, people are using masks made up of Papier-Mache. Masks are one of the preferences of people as they made masks out of paper pulp which is mixed with clay, cotton, flour and glue and are so attractive as they are painted in vibrant colors.
Rejuvenating Life of Papier-Mache
Michael F. McFadden who is the proprietor of Michael’s Donuts says about the figures that these are not life-size but are so realistic that it seems they are. The sculpture made up of Papier Mache was created in early 1970s out of newspaper based material. It is true to say that the newspaper came back to life in such mischievous Papier-Mache figures as a mermaid. There are checker players, clothed as older men playing checkers with one of them leaning a cane.
There is a life-size woman who is sitting on a chair. A black rhinoceros with a small bird riding on its back, also another stretched out women who is smoking a cigarette. The two players who are playing checkers are so true to life as they are wearing denim clothes and spectacles on their eyes so they look original. Michael F. McFadden’s artwork and carvings have found their way into collections worldwide and into the hearts of his viewers.