Papier Mache, Shell and Lac Products

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The valley of Kashmir is perhaps best known for the craft of papier mache which was brought to it by a Kashmiri prince who spent years in a prison at Samarkand in Central Asia. Soaked waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate are kneaded into a pulp which is then pressed on to clay, wood or metal moulds. Once it solidifies, it is coated with a white layer of gypsum and glue and then rubbed smooth. Finally the piece is sand papered and painted with colourful Persian floral motifs.

In the hands of Indian craftsmen, horn, shola pith, coconut shell, tortoise shell, conch shell and papier mache are used to create excellent products. Combs made out of horn are very common and are made in different forms. Some combs are traditional, double sided with gentle carvings on them, others more decorative with ivory or mother of pearl inlay. Items like small animals and birds, toy furniture, buttons, trays, cigarette cases and lamps are also made.

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh are some of the well-known states for horn work. Shola is a plant growing wild in marshy water logged areas. The shola pith has been utilised in Bengal, Orissa and Assam as art decorations. The artists are said to have begun with making decorations for the deities from very early times. The most masterly work is decorating the big deities at festivals, like Durga for Dussehra celebrations. Craftsmen in Tamil Nadu are famous for structures in pith products. They make remarkable models of temples like Rock Temple and famous monuments of India. Pith flowers are made in Karnataka’s sandalwood belt and in Maharashtra. In Andhra Pradesh, the tortoise shell (along with ivory) is used for making trinket boxes.

A variety of articles are made of coconut shell. Kerala produces bowls, vases, roses, teapots, lamps and many other items. The coconut pith is used to make animal and human figures, toys, dolls and Kathakali models. Bengal produces the most decorative measuring bowls by hollowing the coconut tree trunk. Conch in India has religious and social significance since time immemorial. Excavations have revealed numerous conch shell products, including some inlay work requiring great skill. Bengal is known as the home of the conch shell (shankh). Here, the shell bangle symbolises marriage. A variety of items like plain white bangles and coloured bangles are made with shankh. In Kerala small items of daily use are made. A large variety of items are made with cowries, the small closed in-shells. It is used to make necklaces for animals and for decoration on the lids of trinket boxes, on hand and shoulder bags and shawls.

In the Mughal times, the silken surface of papier mache was found ideal as the ground for miniature painting, as also for preparing important state documents. Kashmiri craftsmen make a large variety of utility articles. Some items like bowls and vases are brass lined to widen the scope of their utility. Elaborate designs are also done. Madhya Pradesh produces papier mache toys while craftsmen from Tamil Nadu contribute excellent figures which are remarkably expressive.


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