Friday, October 7, 2016

Mata Ni Pachedi

It has been a while, ok a long while, so I figured I should do another posting. Progress has honestly been slow, but this week I am hoping to make some real progress.
One of the pieces I will be making is a 3-legged stool, the legs will be lathe turned by Anil in Dholka and the circular top will be upholstered in a fabric made by one of the very few Mata ni pachedi makers in India.
Mata ni pachedi literally translates to “behind the mother goddess” and the “true” mata ni pachedi cloth constitutes a temple of the goddess. The story goes that the nomadic Vaghari peoples of Gujarat were not allowed into the temples, so they made their own in the form of the sacred mata ni pachedi cloth.
When I was considering early on which craft forms to work with, I recognized that it would be very important to respect the sanctity of the form and not in anyway knowing or unknowingly disrespect religion or culture. It would be profoundly disrespectful to have a seat cushion made with images of an extremely important Hindu deity on it.  With that, the artist be using non-secular designs in these pieces. 
Traditional red & black cloth

I had considered this early on when reviewing the various crafts, for many of then are connected to religion. The mata ni pachedi, and the metal shrines are two examples. This concern was confirmed by the mata ni pachedi makers when they told me that they would not be willing to use any mother goddess imagery on these cloths. I also think they were relieved when I fully concurred.
These artisans are using the same intricate and time consuming processes their ancestors have used for over some 200 years. It begins with washing the cotton cloth, removing the starch and then treating with a paste to help the cloth retain the applied colors. Only natural dyes are used; iron for black, tamarind for red, indigo -blue, the green from henna, & the yellow from turmeric. The main colors of a traditional cloth are red, black and white but the other colours are commonly used. The designs begin with outlining the design using bamboo “quills” or kalim, then the red is filled in and the cloth is boiled in a solution to fix the colour. Each subsequent colour is filled in and the cloth is boiled between each. Finally the cloth is washed under running water, traditionally washed in the river.
Vasant with his daughter holding a new cloth done with traditional motif.
Love love love this piece.

I am having four cloths made; one using traditional motifs including human figures (no mother goddess), another using traditional abstract motifs, a third with fish, and the final will be a cloth displaying modern India; rickshaws, airplanes, buses, camel carts, etc. I traveled to the makers a couple days ago to see how work was going and at that time they were just finishing up the outlining of the first two cloths; fish and traditional figures and they are absolutely stunning! I am quite excited to see the last two and to see how they all come out. I am working with Vasant Chitara along with his wife. They are very kind and amazingly talented people, and they are training their children to carry on the family tradition.
Traditional motif

I am quite excited about this particular project. I feel this truly frames one of the most stunning art forms being produced in India today.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lathe Turning in Dholka

I spent the day on Sunday with Anil, a lathe turner as I watched him 15 pieces on his traditional lathe.
Anil has been turning all his life, his father was also a turner and his 13-year-old son also plans to be a turner. 
Anil turning a chair leg
The lathe; Western style lathe turning is done standing up, in India, it is done sitting down. Often the feet are also used in the process, whether to help press sandpaper or lacquer stick against the piece, holding the piece in tension between the lathe centers, or even guiding the tools when shaping the wood. When turning a spindle on a western style lathe, one end has teeth in it that grabs the piece and spins the piece driven by an electric motor. On an Indian style lathe, a notch is turned and a rope belt is put into that notch and it runs off a motor mounted in the rafters above your head. These are the primary differences. The tools are more limited but similar.
Tools, only gouges & scrapers all made by a blacksmith

Making pieces

A pretty cool video does a nice job explaining some of this:
Traditional powerless lathe turning is a real thing to see here but is becoming much less common. 
Traditional turner in Kutch
 I have decided to really focus on a specific craft tradition – lathe turning, though some other craft forms will show up in the finished work. I am using reclaimed materials, principally Burmese Teak and (for those who are curious) I am paying $2 to $3 a board foot for it. I actually buy by the kilogram and I am paying 70 to 100 rupees per kilo. It is a beautiful hard wood that is brutal on tools but very dry and very stable and I am really happy about reusing old wood.
These pieces will be are a combination of digital fabrication and traditional craft. For example, I have designed a chair that will have a seat digitally fabricated on a CNC router with legs turned by Anil. I will post images as soon they exist. I am also working with a “ digital guy” Rudrapalsinh – RP to those of us who really suck at Indian pronunciations. He is modeling my pieces in Rhino and doing the files for the CNC machines.
Design - piece
Back to turning; In about 6 hours Anil turned 15 pieces, 4 chair legs, 2 tall pedestal legs (the bases will be carved stone) legs for a 3 legged pedestal, 4 table legs and some pieces for the back support on a second chair design.
The really special thing (I think) about Gujaratti turning is the use of lac sticks. In a nutshell sticks of color (imagine very hard crayons) are made by Anil and his apprentices and through the heat created by pressing the sticks against the spindles while it is turning, the coloured lacquer is deposited on the piece. A very cool process that I shot a lot of video of and the next day discovered that my camera for some unknown reason saved none of it.
Lacquer work

Finished pieces

This is just the first round. The plan is to have another set of turnings made for numerous pieces that will become part of my final exhibition. Then have more made to bring home with me so that I might produce some prototypes in the states.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Architectural Salvage

Got out of the city today and headed south. Visited what we would call an architectural salvage place and a town that has a bunch of lathe turners and just returned about an hour ago. e last blog I did had a bunch of me blathering on, so this one I’m just going to post a bunch of pics. It was an awesome day and yes dear I did buy a few things. But don’t worry, I bought nothing bigger than a fufu pounder.
A couple of things first this guy was a collector/ hoarder of chests and larders – what was/ is used in place of a fridge. My colleague and friend Samruda had to document one of the larders for the project they are working on at DICRC. Most of this stuff is 70 to 100+ years old, some even older. I just found it really interesting – one mans junk… Most these pieces are totally hand made so all the carving you see is done by hand. So I am surprised that these things would be left to spoil. Flippin’ amazing!!
If I had a nickel for every one of these scenes - Water buffalo

Sam and his larder

Architectural slavage, all hand carved

Hand raised brass, the entire front tells a story

Chests & more Chests

Lots of horse motifs

Chris doing lacquerware, a teaser for the next blog...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Adjusting: Finding a place to live

It is always interesting to observe how another culture deals with day-to-day activities. I am always fascinated and sometimes often frustrated by how another culture operates and it reminds me about the simple things that we as Americans really take for granted.
What I spent the first couple weeks doing was looking for a place to live (in between all the holidays):
I looked at several options from dumpy little dark sad places to a large sparkling penthouse flat on the twelfth floor of a new tower that overlooked the city with a slum in the foreground. They were asking 35,000 rupees per month for this, that is around $530 and I could have taken it but it would have been so out of touch with reality here. I also looked at a place that was entirely outfitted with led lighting the changed from clear to green to red to blue and back again. I have also NEVER seen so many light switches! I was concerned that I would have had seizures there. I really should have taken pictures of these places.
My search was not easy principally because of the time issue. I am only here for four and a half months, and as in the US, most landlords are looking to lease their places for a year. So we continued to look when we heard that there was a researcher here preparing to leave for a six-month residency at UC Berkley and was looking to sublease her place. Perfect! I looked at it, I agreed to take it, and the next day backed out of it and I felt awful about it. Why? A lot of issues started to pop up, I was a bachelor (yes I am married but I would be living here single most of the time) I might be prone to cooking meat, a no no in this complex, and the biggest red flag, I was a foreigner. This particular apartment is in a “society” and this particular society was apparently pretty darned conservative. You could compare it to a gated community but societies are big apartment complexes as apposed to houses. I first thought I would just do my best to stay under the radar, to “blend”, but, well I’m kinda tall, kinda white, and I kinda stand out… a lot, particularly here, and I just did not want to deal with the issues that (probably wouldn’t have but might arise. I really am living the fish bowl existence enough already and at some point in my daily life, I would like to not be the center of attention, it is simply exhausting. I do have to say when I am on the CEPT campus I do not garner too much attention. But when I am out and about, shopping, everyone wants to know what it in the white guy’s basket, and I have never been so intently stared at like I am here. I was stuck in traffic a couple of days ago, I looked out the left side of the rickshaw and there is a guy on a scooter staring at me. We make eye contact and he doesn’t look away. I look right and here is a family of three on a motorcycle all staring at me, they don’t look away either. I look left again, still staring, look right, also still staring. The only thing that ends this is when traffic begins to move.

 To make the long story about housing short, we ended up finding a guest bungalow on Air B&B where I am in one of three rooms. It is on a side street just across from the railroad tracks and walking distance to a whole lot of stuff including groceries, veggie stands, and restaurants, There is also a beautiful public garden, and a nice street market within walking distance. I have a room with an attached bath that doubles as a shower room and a toilet. I share a kitchen, though most of the time I will have it to myself. My landlady and housekeeper are both very cool.

Bedroom/ livingroom/ familyroom/ office

All in all I feel pretty good about my living situation and I am adjusting relatively well. Though I really need to start making stuff and formally interacting with classes. Apparently I need to take the initiative to make both these happen; I will need to invite myself into the classes to do presentations and I am set to travel to a village to visit some lathe turners tomorrow morning.

The Veranda


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Woodworking courses @ CEPT

1 class - 80 students!! from furniture design & interior design. – Taught by one principal teacher with four assistants.
Each student gets a set of chisels including two standard and a morticing chisel. They also get a large saw, a small saw, a file for sharpening their saws, a ballpeen hammer, and, a wet stone for the chisels, a machinist’s square, and a marking gauge. All this for one low costs of 1000 rupees or just under 16 American dollars.
Tool set

Assistant showing student how to file saw teeth

Their first lesson is sharpening the tools, which all come (saws & chisels) dull. I don’t necessarily know if it is a lesson more than a told to do it. Keep in mind this is 80 students in one class. It was interesting to watch them go at it and it took all my effort to let them do their thing. Needless to say, do doubt there are many overly sharp chisels down there.

Sharpening Chisels
Their first project is a mortice & tennon joint, which they call tongue & grove, cut from teak wood, a very hard wood full of silica that dulls tools quickly.


For those in the know, the entire shop here is approximately the size of the bench room at Iowa State and contains all the power tools and benches.  There is also plenty of counter space outside the studio on which to work.
BTW: Design Innovation & Craft Resource Center (DICRC) and my “office” is just above the wood studio and I and sitting here just now listening to them torture some poor machine while running teak through it… 
In regards to the tools at my disposal, for some reason there are plenty of belt “disck” sanders, there is a combo machine - table saw, jointer and planer all in one. Also a few other tools I might find will come in handy including a pantorouter. Go figure. There is also a metal working area, really just another part of the wood shop, that has a couple of lathes, a milling machine, a plasma cutter and a couple of different kinds of welders. There are several shop techs who seem to be quite helpful.
Tablesaw, jointer & planer all in one!

I am looking forward to getting in there at some point soon. Today as I was walking by, the techs were setting fire to a box full of newspaper and green Neem leaves in the shop’s doorway. Apparently this is their version of a citronella candle for warding off mosquitos, which are out in mass right now! I have a mosquito coil under my desk to keep them from chewing on my ankles. It is partially effective…