Monday, July 26, 2010

Visitors from India

Last week we had the opportunity to host two men from the western state of Gujarat, in India, at our house.  It was their first time to the states, and we were honored that they chose to spend time at our house in El Sobrante of all places.  It is a long story how they ended up here, but the short of it is that Massey and I met Himansu briefly in India this winter, and told him to stop by when he came to the states.  Himansu was traveling with Ramu, an artisan from a tiny rural village who makes quilts, to an international craft fair in Santa Fe.

Himansu runs a textile business that employs Ramu and other quilters and embroiders from Gujarat, but does lots of other things too, like record tribal folk music in earthen buildings in Gujarat and Rajastan.  Ramu is also skilled at many things.  He declared our site soil to be a wonderful clay and proceded to show us how to do Lipon- the traditional Gujarati way of doing decorative earthen work on walls.  He dosnt' speak English (save for a few words) and we learned limited Gujarati in the past week so communicating was a delightful challenge, and mostly done through Himansu, who translated.

Below is Ramu, in our clay soaking pit, processing our site soil, and horse manure, to make Lipon with.

This became a great opportunity to work on the wall-- that has been sitting rather unfinished out front for a very long time-- so an early morning plastering session turned it red, from some clay soil somebody brought back from up north.

Next, Ramu showed us how to do Lipon, by rolling snakes out of a careful mixture of clay soil, screened dried horse manure, wood glue and water, and pinching them tightly to the wall.

Over the course of about 3 or 4 days, we had lots of helpers, and lots of gawkers, and met more of the neighborhood than we'd previously met, because pretty much every body who passed by was compelled to stop and comment or ask questions.
The pattern was drawn by Massey and inspired from a bed sheet with an old Mogul pattern she'd originally picked up from Himansu in Gujarat.  Himansu calls it "nervous elegance" referring to the drooping flowers that are scattered throughout Mogul designs.  I liked his description.

We removed some of the bamboo and used base plaster to sculpt designs in the openings, a method also inspired by Gujarat.  Mirrors are often embedded in the design, though for our wall we decided against mirrors and instead used mica, which was traditionally used before mirrors.  It looks beautiful.

More pictures to come.  The roadside is now complete as well, and the roof is next to protect all this fine work...

Thanks to everybody who helped with this intricate work and a big thank you to Ramu and Himansu as well.

Oh and one last picture for your amusement... the bamboo trailer wasn't quite up to the bicycle rickshaw standards of India, but we thought we'd give it a go for airport transportation :)