Saturday, 3 October 2015

Revisiting a Year of Travel: Travel Art

As I have been finding a place for all the bits of art I collected along the way, I’ve also been documenting my memories of how and where they came from.  Most items are not particularly expensive but they were all hand made by artists/artisans.  Many were surprised when I stopped to talk and ask about the process and the materials.  It took some convincing to get the items signed – in the same way that I honour the fabric art that I create, these items have more meaning to me because of the experiences. Interestingly, most items come from those least developed countries, where hand work is still honoured and where mass produced items are not available.

11 April 2014.  Istanbul (Silk carpet hand knotted near Istanbul and a wool carpet hand knotted in the Kurdish area of Turkey).  It was a great afternoon experience – from being escorted through the Blue Mosque and over to the uncle’s shop to the final purchase and hope that it was actually going to get back to Canada (it did, indeed all our parcels eventually made it home).  Not signed by the artist, but a quilt square has a greeting in both Turkish (from the owner) and in Kurdish (from his assistant).

21 April 2014. Pamukale, Turkey
A commercial scarf with hand tatted edging was sold to me by the lady who made it.  She was delighted to be part of a group photo.

6 May 2014.  Tblisi, Georgia.  Hand woven and hand embroidered table topper.  Across the street, postcards from the artist’s wife.

20 May 2014.  Baku, Azerbaijan.  A hand woven lamb’s wool scarf with paisley flames.

Uzbekistan.  A treasure of fabric art.  The Aral Sea has basically been drained to grow cotton for the Russian markets and silkworms grown in family homes give a different meaning to farming.

27 May 2015.  Kiva.  A square hand embroidered with silk carpet threads reminds me of bargaining for silk threads that have been incorporated in my travel quilt and a photo of the shop manager. I also purchased a dress hand made by the shopkeeper.  The fabric was cotton (from the Fergana Valley) but woven and hand printed batik in Kiva.  It got a lot of wear as we traveled because it was so cool and didn’t need ironing.  It was fascinating reading “A Carpet Ride to Kiva” about the development of the carpet coop.

30 May 2015 Bukhara.  Hand made scissors and knives of Damascus steel, Suzani embroidery and Ikat scarves.  Fantastic conversations with the artists.  If they had accepted mastercard, or if I had had more USD, I would have purchased a hand felted scarf that would have fetched hundreds of dollars in North America.

I had a lovely time deciding which one of the hundreds of Suzani embroidery panels to purchase.  The shopkeeper explained that she was an instructor at the local college teaching others about this traditional skill.  She sold her work as well as that of her students.  I knew how much money I had in USD to spend and explained that I would prefer a high quality small item rather than something much bigger that would be difficult to carry.  I loved this one when I first saw it; the off white colour and the warm rusts and earth colours appealed much more to me.  She was clearly delighted as I had chosen one of her embroideries AND it was her first sale of the day.  She took my USD and patted them on all the other items in the shop to give them luck – a process which I saw time and time again through our travels in Asia.

The fabric is Acras which is a blend of silk and cotton threads which were grown in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan.  The fabric was woven in the Bukhara area.  The design was hand stitched with silk thread.  If you look carefully at the fabric, you can see faint pencil marks to guide the placement, but the entire design was stitched without a pattern.  After the embroidery is finished, the fabric is boiled in onion and walnut water to give it the lovely warm colour.  The outside border design is peppers – to ward off the evil eye – and the inside design is also traditional.

When I got home, I added a backing to protect the backing stitches.  What better to use than a piece of silk fabric I had purchased at the Silk Production Factory we visited in the Fergana Valley.  The fabric is silk ikat created using the traditional methods from growing the silkworms to weaving the fabric. Here are some photos of the process.

Doesn't this look like an artsy something or other?
 It's actually the warp threads after their first dying and now
 tied for the next colour.

This lady was dancing on seven pedals as she wove the fabric.

If I thought I could have carried this,
 I would have tried to convince the coop to let me purchase
 this hanging on an outside door.
 Silk threads, cocoons, and a rough piece of board.

18 Jun 2014.  Kyrgyzstan.  Hand felted items.  Getting to create my own hand felted fabric.  Begaim finding patterns for traditional Kyrgyz embroidery and explaining the symbolism.  Realizing that the process and the designs are also used in western quilting and embroidery, no doubt traded along the silk road.

1 July 2014.  Magao Caves (Dunhuang), China. Apsaras and paintings on silk.  After exploring the Magao caves and not being able to take photos, it was actually a delight to arrive at the “souvenir” shop at the exit gate.  Books, high quality sculptures, fabrics and these original paintings on silk were all available for purchase. Not copies, but “in the style of”.  The artist has permission to create paintings of apsaras, but they are from his own creativity.  I chose to purchase an original on silk but could also have bought prints or postcards.

26 July 2014.  Katmandu, Nepal.  Hand embroidered pillow cases.  From over the border in Northern India in the shop owner’s village.  Borders are an iffy science.

19 Aug 2014.  Darjeeling, West Bengal India.  Ava Devi’s silk embroidery from the 1930s.  Originals for viewing but not for sale.  Watching the villagers create hand painted silk sari fabric as we drove from Mashuribad to Kolkata, then purchasing fabric from the co-op. Touring the Idol Makers market where sculptures were hand created for festivals.

Man of the East.  Hand stitched silk threads
on black fabric.

24 Aug 2014.  Chaing Mai, Thailand.  Hope, hand carved by a local artisan to support the Elephant Nature Park and hand made paper art card, also with elephants.

30 Aug 2014.  Luang Probang, Laos.  Op Pop Tok.  Hand dyed and hand woven silk items.  The master artist who helped me create my own work of lemongrass and teak.  Learning just enough to appreciate the skill and patience to create the multi coloured scarf I purchased.  Night market where I bought Hmong embroidered pillowcases (and was the first sale of the day, same routine as in Uzbekistan) and hand painting on mulberry paper from the artist’s wife.

Hmong traditional pattern. Reverse applique.

This image of the monks in their yellow robes (traditionally dyed with marigolds) was everywhere.  In Laos, most boys are sent to a monastery for a few years to get an education before they are considered adults, and the monks are very much a presence in the communities with their morning alms sessions (people provide food for the monks and in return receive a blessing for the day).
Luang Probang is a very tourist oriented city and this image was everywhere – on posters, notecards, postcards and even tshirts.  However, at the night market, I found this one stall where all the paintings were handmade and a little unique.  The shopkeeper explained that her husband did all the paintings.  The paper was handmade sa (mulberry) which traditionally had been used for all important documents.  The background is handwritten calligraphy (by the artist) and is the daily prayers that the monks chant as they walk.

6 September 2014.  Hue, Vietnam.  Our hotel in Hue had dozens of these silk thread paintings on the walls.  They were all for sale.  The story is that this is a traditional embroidery skill in the local villages and that a company (actually one fellow) had bought them from villagers on consignment for sale in the city.  He then sold them all to the hotel before immigrating to America.

Tranh, who was the daughter of the owners and helped out on her days off, had actually spent a year as an exchange student in Port Alberni.  She helped us decide which one we wanted and knew how to get a shipping tube (from a friend’s shop down the alley) and figure out how much it would cost to mail.  Again, the cost was a pittance of what I would have paid in North America.

18 September 2014. Preah Khan (Siem Reip), Cambodia.  Temple rubbing on rice paper from the artist, Sao (Saturday).

This young man was selling temple rubbings just outside the Preah Khan temple in Ankhor Wat.  He explained that the paper was traditional handmade rice paper and that he had learned the skill of rubbing from his father and grandfather.  First the paper is placed on the frescoes and the shape rubbed into the paper.  Back at the shop, it is coloured, either with the traditional charcoal mixture (as this one is) or with modern acrylic paints to give colour.

I had actually seen this fresco in Ankhor Wat.  It shows daily life around the temple.  The artist’s name was Sao, which translates into Saturday.  No, he wasn’t born on Saturday, but his dad’s name was Friday.  He autographed the back of this rubbing after a lot of persuasion.  I had a great time bargaining for this, and then Cal quietly gave Sao his original asking price which was probably about $ 15.00.  A great experience.

15 Feb 2015.  Bali and Lombok, Indonesia.  Creating a hand painted batik panel and then finding hand stamped sarong fabric with traditional Bali symbols.  Buying hand painted batik postcards from a street gypsy whose brother had painted them.  Hand carved wooden figures made by the shopkeeper’s family in Mas.  Again, we blessed the shop by being the first sale of the day.  Visiting the many handcraft villages on Lombok; some providing very high quality items, others less so.

"President's stove"  Pot on the top with a fire in the center.
A political commentary on the increase in the cost of fuel.

These scarves were very simple and loose woven of thick cotton thread
that was imported from Jakarta.

While this lady showed us how to weave the bamboo containers,
her husband quickly created simple rings for the ladies in our group.

One of the cards I purchased from a
street gypsy.  Hand painted by his brother.

My much simpler hand painted batik.
With a lot of help from the master.

13 Mar 2015.  Malaysia.  Trying to find hand crafted items was impossible in the markets as everything was mass produced in Kuala Lumpur.  Finally finding the local shop that bought items from villagers on consignment.  Hand painted silk scarf and a hand painted batik picture as well as a hand strung bead bracelet from a local tribe.

Hope has made himself at home with the rest of my elephants.

Taking the four items I wanted to be framed to Claire was a joy as well.  We talked about where they had come from and the memories attached.  How I had paid (what was for me) a pittance and for the artist was an honourable way to bring money to the family.  The experience of asking for autographs to honour the art.  Remembering the many other items from near and far that she had framed through the years.  Honouring Claire’s art of framing by trusting that the beauty of the pieces I gave her would be enhanced by her work.  No questions asked.  No invoice signed.  No deposit necessary.

Travel art in the true sense of the word.  To the artists I met, thank you for enriching my experience of your country.

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