Monday, May 17, 2010



It was great to attend & be a part of all the information shared.
I went there with Emma Ronald, an excellent natural dyer, authoress of 3 books on blockprinting, and the first  Curator of the Anokhi Museum......also good mate, fellow traveller/ explorer/ researcher & currently doing her masters on blockprinting. CHEERS EM.
The conference was divided into two parts: VRIKSHA, dealing with natural dyes & textiles; & RAKSHA, dealing with the conservation of Indian Costume & textiles. 

What was exciting was that a whole set of Thomas Wardle’s dye samples were found in recently at the Indian museum in the Industrial section. He had been to India to find out how the Indian dyers made such a vast array of colours which were so colourfast. He had dyestuffs shipped to his dye works in Leeds, and spent over 8 years testing them to produce over 3,500 textile samples, gathered from the vast Indian repetoire. William Morris came to him to learn about natural dyes & printing. It could be said that without Thomas Wardle’s major influence, there would have been no William Morris prints              
The scale of the Economic Botany section of the Indian Museum was bewildering. A Victorian menagerie  chokka -full of wooden & glass Floor to ceiling display cabinets, brimming  with dyestuffs, roots, barks, wood, some dry in compartmnents, some preserved in glass jars. Shafts of light permeate the semi-gloom, moving steadily round to illuminate the samples and artifacts. One sample of Indigo even has it’s original label from 1872...who know maybe Thomas Wardle saw this himself. Dr Brenda King gave  an amazingly interesting talk on the man himself.

Also on display were some of the original William Roxburgh Botanical prints from the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata, the pages opened on natural dyestuffs, such as Indigo and Manjeet, still as exquisite as the day they were painted, nearly 200 years ago.

Jenny Balfour Paul read a fascinating paper..a tour de force of a rollercoaster ride through the history of Indigo with particular reference to the factories of Bengal in the 19th & early 20th centuries.
Dr H Debnath, & Dr M Sanjappa from the Botanical survey of India, were also extremely informative.
There were also workshops on natural dyes where artisans demonstrated how to make certain colours...I am particularly grateful to Sri Kapileswar Mohonto for explaining to me in great detail how to get a fabulous red from Al root( morinda citrifolia), and to Ajit Kumar Das, a master natural dye artist who made the most beautiful hand painted saris, odanis & dupattas.


The focus on textile conservation was really superb, headed by Lynda Hillyer from the V & A, together with Alice Cole, Sarah Glenn & Elizabeth- Anne Halden.They kept me riveted with case histories of textile conservation. Vinod Daniel from the Australian museum opened all our eyes to the perils of pests & how to control them. The course they ran for the next consecutive days on conservation was an eye-opener for me. Clear, understandable, easy to follow, and scrupulously well organised & fluid. I had recently designed & curated an exhibition on Durries for the Mehrangarh Museum trust In Jodhpur, & felt that I was woefully ignorant on  whole aspects of conservation. They were so helpful, working so hard to make sure everybody got to grips with not only the technical side of things, but also with guiding us along in practicals such as sewing techniques used..we all had to stitch! and making supports for textiles together with papier mache shape forms to support delicate objects such  as fabric slippers....these were just snippets of the vast amount of knowledge imparted to us  so fabulously in such a lucid, concise, friendly, interested & professional manner.
Kolkata was a gas. The hustle & bustle of vibrant friendly Bengali energy in a big cultural hotpot of Indian , British, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, & inbetweens. The Hooghly river, grandly sweeping by the fecund and faded colonial grandeur, side by side with the squalor & poverty of the Raj’s first city. At times you have to do a double take as to where or when you are. Food..delicious! Botanical gardens...overwhelmingly gorge.

Thanks to Amrita Mukerji for getting it all together.
Joss Graham, and his wife Jayne...thanks so much for telling me initially that the conference was going to happen, and for being such fun to hang out with... Salute to Mocambo’s Restaurant for still being so ‘50s and serving the most delectable of cocktails....the GIN FIZZ!
Em,  thanks for coming along and being such a fab travel mate...certainly wouldn’t have been half as much fun without you.  

For more pix go to : 

No comments:

Post a Comment