Closed for the Summer!

Today the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing officially closes its doors for the Summer – although the hot weather has actually been with us for some time. While it may seem like a long break,  the museum staff need two full months to carry out their annual cleaning and maintenance tasks (of which there are many in a 400+ year old building!!).

Still, every year the footfall grows and we are always amazed at how many intrepid travelers brave the heat to pay us a visit even in the middle of May!  While we mention the closure date on our website and in several other places, for anyone who misses that information and turns up at the museum, we do let them come in.

Until the dust sheets go over the display cases, the staff will happily let anyone look around the exhibitions. Even when everything is eventually covered or removed from its case, our block printers and carver continue to work behind closed doors and a stroll around the stunning, tranquil interior of the building is every bit worth the visit!  In short, while the museum is closed, it won’t be a wasted trip for whoever lands up! Just knock on the door!

AMHP will re-open, as usual, in mid-July once the hottest part of the Summer is (hopefully) out the way and monsoon is underway.

In the meantime, have a very good Summer!

Meet Salim

 

It’s been a while since our last post; we’ve been very busy but plan to write more often!! To get back into things we’re revisiting the theme of Meet The Staff,  where we introduce a member of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing (AMHP) team. Last time we chatted to Jitendra and Pavan, the museum supervisors.  This time the spotlight is on one of the museum’s two block printers….

Meet Salim (we asked for his full name and  apparently that’s it)!  Salim took up his position as museum block printer in July 2015 and joins our charismatic printer Iqbal in the demonstration area (we’ll be writing about Iqbal another time!). Chatty and sociable, Salim seems to be enjoying his dual role as printer and demonstrator.  We joined him in his work space to find out what he thinks of life in a museum and to learn a little bit more about him.

Salim’s hometown is Farrukhabad, a renowned block printing and carving town in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He grew up in a neighbourhood surrounded by craftworkers. Salim’s father was also a printer but he points out that he didn’t learn the craft at home. “I picked things up on the job from other printers, just being around them all, watching and practicing. Everyone in that area was printing. There were plenty of others my age. We all learned together. “

After a brief stint in Delhi, Salim moved to Sanganer – another historic printing town, just outside Jaipur. Work was scarce in Farrukhabad but Sanganer’s block printing industry was flourishing.  Now 59 years old, he has been living and printing there for almost 40 years until his recent work move to AMHP, Amber  – on the opposite side of Jaipur. His two brothers are in the same line of work not far away. His son is a block printer too – an encouraging sign that the next generation has also engaged with the craft!

Salim at his printing table in the demonstration area.

The museum must be a real change, much calmer than the hustle and bustle of Sanganer? ” I’m older now, ” he reflects, “and this work is more relaxed compared to work in a printing unit. I demonstrate to visitors or work on a small order, but it’s unhurried. I like new people coming to see me work and I feel happy when some of the visitors call me Guru! I am very happy here.” Often associated with a spiritual guide, guru is also synonymous with expert or authority. After four decades of stamping cloth, Salim is undoubtedly a skilled craftsman and, proud of his heritage. He is happy to put on a bit of a show and share his expertise with the many enthusiastic onlookers who pass through. He is very pleased to see ‘his craft’ in this kind of setting, in a museum dedicated to block printing. “It makes me proud that people are interested in what I do for a living.”

Testing a new block while waiting for museum visitors.

Salim has a nice routine – demonstrations throughout the morning, printing orders in the afternoon. He’ll stay doing this until he retires. And then? He’ll probably return to Farrukhabad. He still has plenty of family there and returns several times a year for festivals and special family gatherings.

Visitors have come! Salim cleans a block and gets ready to print.

During his chai breaks he can be spotted scurrying down the corridor to have a chat with the museum’s equally affable block carver, Mujeeb Khan. Mujeeb is also from Farrukhabad and about the same age. The two have much in common and plenty to chat about. But that’s another story!

 

AMHP is Not Just About the Prints!

Although most visitors come to the museum to learn about hand block printing, the haveli itself offers a look at ancient building traditions still practised today, albeit in diminishing numbers.

When AMHP recently called on local artisan, Ram Kishor, to repaint the weather-beaten façade, we requested he follow a centuries-old limewash recipe. Together with his ‘team’, he set up a temporary work space in the museum forecourt and spent the next 8-9 days mixing and nurturing the various ingredients to create the perfect earth-tinted wash. It took another two weeks to paint and embellish the walls.

Few old buildings (or new, for that matter) receive such a pampering these days! Watching this fascinating process of refreshing the wall colour, we decided to share it with our followers. Here’s a small glimpse, in photos, at how the museum was brushed up for the new season!

 

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Artisan, Ram Kishor
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Ram Kishor places blocks of chuna limestone into a large drum adding water that he continually replenishes for 2 days.
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Constant stirring prevents the lime and water from separating. After straining it through a gauze cloth, salt is added.
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To create colour, Ram Kishor mixes additional ingredients like molasses, curd, yellow sand and red clay, adjusting amounts for desired results.
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Regular straining removes dust particles for a clear smooth finish.

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The craftsmen scrape the walls with a thin iron blade and fill the holes with chuna cement. Scoring the surface releases trapped air to prevent cracking and also enables the 2nd and 3rd application to adhere.
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An undercoat of limewash covers the entire area for a smooth finish.
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Continuous stirring must never stop or the mixture will thicken and spoil.

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The painter uses a string dipped in dry coal powder to mark the area for painting, a laborious task that needs a slow steady hand.
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Ram Kishor carefully adds final touches to the relief- covered wall with white chuna paint brightened with a touch of indigo.

 

Text: Suki Skidmore & Rachel Bracken-Singh

Photographs: Anokhi Archives

 

 

Meet the Staff

Well…the Thar desert is still bubbling hot but at the Anokhi Museum everyone is looking forward to cooler days and the onset of the tourist season.  Expectations are high as we enter our 11th season!

As you can tell from our last post, lots of hard work occurs over the summer from cleaning cases to more onerous repair jobs, plus everything in between.  At this junction we thought it was a good idea to introduce you to the dedicated staff who make it all happen!

We will begin with our remarkable ‘Generals’ – Jitendra Chaturvedi, Museum Manager and Pavan Saini, Assistant Museum Manager as well as Shop Manager and Education Supervisor.  They are both bonafide multi-taskers whose diligent efforts enable the smooth functioning of AMHP. No doubt, their boyhood friendship underpins the unique camaraderie of the entire museum staff.

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Jitendra is the elder of the team, as well as the naughtiest in his youth!  We all love hearing these local men reminisce about what the haveli was like during their childhood. Given its dilapidated state at the time, it is not surprising that village mothers warned their children to stay clear of the crumbling, monkey-infested building! Jitendra, it seems, was the one who ignored these words of wisdom and instead explored the dangerous yet mysterious nooks and crannies deep inside. No wonder he has such a fondness for the place!  Today, he is amazed not only at the haveli’s current majesty, but also that he began at the ticket desk on opening day with Pavan closeby in the shop.

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Although Jitendra still tends the desk, he now also manages the entire museum with the assistance of his old pal, Pavan. With Jitendra supervising the staff and dealing with daily issues, Pavan oversees a newly expanded shop while also administering our educational programs, so vital to the museum’s mission. They give exceptional tours that we encourage people to attend when visiting.

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Both Jitendra and Pavan graduated from Rajasthan College in Jaipur with diplomas in computer science along with coursework in Indian history, political science and English.  Pavan, a former English teacher, continues to tutor in the local schools.  As respected members of Amber, both men have been an incredible resource for establishing the museum within the community and it is always fun when their friends or family members drop by for a visit. Over the years, the museum staff has enjoyed participating in their lives from celebrating weddings and births, or just enjoying family celebrations here in town!

Text & photos : Suki Skidmore

 

Summer Tasks

For those of you keeping an eye on the Anokhi Museum blog, many apologies for the delay in posting any news for quite some time. We’ve been extremely busy!

The museum’s 10th season came to a close on May 15th, marked by the onset of soaring temperatures and characteristic aandhi or loo winds. We have had great footfall since the season began in mid-July’14 – 6705 visitors to be precise, our highest figure so far.

We are occasionally asked why the museum closes.  Visitor numbers have always dropped right off in the hot weather (just a few hardy enthusiasts after April) ,  so it’s the perfect time to undertake any restoration work, make general repairs and carry out a thorough cleaning of the galleries.

After several monsoon lashings, the museum’s exterior walls are in need of attention. Repairs to the façade and boundary wall will soon begin, with skilled artisans using age-old practices to carry out the work and to also re-touch the decorative paintwork within some of the  galleries.

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These archive photographs were taken during the 1989 -92 restoration of the museum building. To achieve the distinctive terracotta hue of the walls, the artisan mixes a traditional recipe that includes lime stone and red clay. A white linear detail is carefully painted on top. Retouching the extant paint work is a lengthy process that will take much of the closed period to complete.

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Also during this time, a local lohar metalworker will create a lattice structure to place over the second floor courtyard – where our onsite block carver, Mujeeb bhai, spends his day carefully chipping away to make beautiful wooden blocks. The building currently has a similar stylish canopy above the central courtyard and printing demonstration gallery. When the new cover is in place, “Mujeeb’s veranda” will finally be monkey – and pigeon –  proof, and he’ll no longer have to worry about the local primate population muscling in for free block carving lessons!!!

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Delhi-based architect Stephane Paumier devised the original design in 2004 for the museum opening, which has been adapted by local architect,  Gaurav Bhatnagar, to place over the front court-yard.

Other work to complete over the next two months is an extension to the museum shop. One small, unused room adjoining the shop will generate the space needed for a trial cubicle, as well as give a bit more display space to expand the variety of regional textiles on offer. At present, the shop showcases traditional – predominantly natural dye – cloth from Bagru, Ajrakhpur, Balotra, Bagh, Sanganer and Jahota. In the new season, we look forward to adding block prints from other regions in Rajasthan.

Next month we welcome a second block printer (and a new table) to the demonstration gallery, to work alongside our existing printer, Chacha bhai. While fulfilling small production orders for the museum shop, once the museum re-opens in mid-July, both craftsmen will be on hand to demonstrate their skills and interact with visitors in this very popular area of the museum.

To any brave travellers still moving around in the Rajasthani sun and hoping to call in at the museum, please knock on the door – it is now closed and the exhibits will soon be hidden beneath dust-covers, but the building itself is impressive and worthy of a not-so-quick look – entry free! To all of you who have visited AMHP during this season (and before!) , a big thankyou . Please come again!

A Legend Passes

In  May of 2014, AMHP was saddened to learn of the death of Abdul Rahman, the renowned razai quilt maker. Anokhi had worked with this talented artisan for 34 years and many of our customers have enjoyed wrapping themselves in his soft, downy quilts. Not long before his passing several of us were fortunate to meet with him and his family to tour his ’factory’.

Arriving at Abdul’s home just off Amber Road on the outskirts of the old city was an experience itself. His comfortable, rambling farm-like house was a lively scene – cows mooing, pigs oinking and the extended family assembled during the school holidays, each seemingly with a special task to do along with the young ones playing. His elderly mother, now retired, proudly oversaw a sewing circle of mothers and daughters, gossiping and giggling together as they stitched the lovely quilts. Abdul’s warm and welcoming personality seemed to illuminate the household.

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At home with family

Born in Jaipur in 1952, Abdul grew up in a city where children played in the streets and people travelled by bicycles or tongas. Perhaps a touch of this cosy environment now graced his own home.  By age 12 his grandmother began teaching the young boy his trade, a generational craft harking back to their local village about 75 kilometres from Jaipur. Abdul recalled making these popular quilts in rough, thick inexpensive khadi cotton that protected the locals and villagers against the plummeting night time temperatures of a Rajasthan winter. The finer materials of satin and silk appealed to wealthier patrons.

In the workshop a simple type of cotton gin whirred, spitting out the fluffed cotton. The invention of carding machines 75 years ago displaced old-style pinnins, the original hand tools, and revolutionised the craft with increased speed and efficiency. As Abdul commented: The cotton is good desi Indian stuff but nothing exceptional…The trick lies in the carding.  We card all the dross to get the  finest fibres.

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Proudly showing off his family’s skills in a light cotton razai

Abdul noted that there were still 12 to 15 families making razais in Jaipur, most catering to volume production, with predominantly block printed blankets destined for local bazaars and upscale boutiques. We have been doing this for years now. We earn enough to keep the home fires burning. It’s a hereditary skill. Our Mother still plies a deft needle!

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His family will continue this tradition, but sadly, Abdul will no longer supervise their activities. However, there is no doubt that his gentle spirit will be a guiding presence.

 

Text & Photographs: Suki Skidmore

 

 

The Neighbourhood Bash

Once again all of Amber gathered at the Anokhi Museum for an afternoon of festivities with  hosts, Museum Supervisors, Jitendra Chaturvedi and Pavan Saini, supported by staff members, Jagdish Prasad Meena, Rampal Meena and craftsmen ‘Cha-Cha’  and Mujeeb Bhai.

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Every September we look forward to this fun party – a festive gathering of our neighbours and an opportunity to update the town about upcoming events. There is always plenty of chai and samosas to go around, plus tours of the museum are available throughout the afternoon. Everyone enjoys printing with the assistance of our on-site craftsman, and attendees returned home with their own hand printed handkerchief, bag or scarf.

We are really proud of this event. When the museum opened in 2005 the people of Amber were unsure of us; in fact, we were ALL a bit wary of one another.  A museum tucked amongst the homes in Amber was a strange concept. Our challenge was to explain ourselves, introducing the museum as an educational venue for them too. In short, we needed to become user friendly to the people next door.

Not surprisingly, our local staff was invaluable and ‘spread-the-word’. By our first Samosa Party four years ago, almost every child had visited us on a school trip, so parents were curious to peek inside the once derelict haveli mansion

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On September 14th  the party had a different feel. The original 40 attendees now numbered  almost five hundred!! Today we can count on our neighbours to not only direct tourists here, but to also drop by occasionally for a  visit. In turn, our friends want us to provide a welcoming educational experience for their families. It works for everyone!  The Samosa Party  was a true celebration – a bit more than a party. It was a happy occasion to gather in the spirit of cultural exchange, learning and friendship!

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Text: Suki Skidmore

Photographs: Abdul Salaam