Papier mache, a delicate decorative art which shows the artistic zeal of a craftsman was introduced in Kashmir in the 15th Century by a Kashmiri Prince at the time of Sultan Zain-ul-Aabidin. The art born in Persia was highly favoured by Mughal Emperors of 15th and 16th Century. Afsha Arjumand reports.
Despite the French sounding name, papier Mache was not made in France until the mid 17th century. However, they were the first country in Europe to do so and thus the name. Papier mache actually originates from China; the inventors of paper itself. They used Papier Mache to make helmets of all things.
In Kashmir, this unique craft involves the use of paper pulp for creating beautiful artefacts painted by expert craftsmen in lifelike images of Kingfishers, maple leaves and other motifs. The traditional Kashmiri method of making Papier Mache starts with waste paper which is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. The excess water is drained and the soaked waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate are mixed to form a pulp. This mixture is placed in a mould and left to dry for two to three more days. On the drying of pulp, the shape is cut away from the mould in two halves and then glued again.
The surface is coated with the layer of glue and gypsum, rubbed smooth with a stone or baked piece of clay and pasted with layers of tissue paper. A base colour is painted on, and a design is added free hand. The object is then sandpapered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer. The ingenious Papier Mache artisans of Kashmir transform a variety of utility articles into rare art pieces.
The creation of a Papier-Mache object can be divided into two distinct categories, the Sakhtsazi (making the object) and the Naqashi (painting the surface). The colours for painting designs on the surface are obtained by grinding and soaking various vegetable mineral dyes in pigment or stone form. The final product is a beautiful art work that cannot be called a creation of one artist. It travels many pairs of talented hands before reaching a table or a mantel. Above all other talents, the aesthetic sensibility and hereditary skills are most essential in these craftsmen.
The Papier Mache objects produced in Kashmir today vary from Christmas ornaments to coasters and include boxes of every imaginable size and shape. These objects are not only beautifully decorated, but are surprisingly light and strong. Their coating of lacquer protects them from water and gives extra durability.