A FULLBRIGHT EXPERIENCE IN INDIA
In the far western reaches of India, just beside the Pakistani border, sits the tiny town of Bhuj. It is a satellite town with many of the surrounding villages specializing in textile crafts.
This was a place I’d come to know and love well during my international travels and going there had always been a kind of “homecoming” for me. Little did I know that I would return here to live and work with the local people! Here’s the story of how my adventure in textiles began…..
I remember returning home to the San Francisco Bay Area from one of my long independent journeys to India to two months of unopened mail. Bags yet unpacked, I open a letter from the Fulbright Commission informing me that I had four months to prepare for a year in my favorite faraway place.
I had been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Grant to study as an “artist at large”! Instantly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I would return to Bhuj, India and finish some projects I had started during my travels but had been unable to complete due to lack of time and funding.
Of equal importance to me was my fascination with bandhini: the fine art of tie & dye. Under the guidance of an incredible master, Khatri Ali-Mohammed Isha (pictured on left) I spent half of every day in his workshop practicing and finessing this amazing craft. We experimented with natural dyes: marigolds, madder roots, dowry flowers, onion skins, indigo and pomegranate skins to create the most gorgeous of natural colors.
My passion for textiles truly surfaced during the time I spent mastering this craft. We worked on silk for the most part; my scarf collection was worthy of being shown on Madison Ave. courtesy of Julie’s Artisans’ Gallery.
The blessing of these experiences, which was only possible thanks to the Fulbright Grant I received, has deeply shaped my appreciation of India’s exotic textiles arts and, just as importantly, allowed me to develop meaningful relationships with the talented artisans who work cloth throughout India.
BECOMING A GUEST OF INDIA
I sought out a government tourist agent, explaining to him my idea of making tablecloths from three particular patterns of ikat. No, I didn’t want to set up an operation in town and copy what someone else had created.
Instead, I wanted to do it the hard way by locating the village in the interior and working with the artisans directly. Mr. Mishra approved of my idea and sent me to the central government local chapter, granting me an interview with an influential bigwig. He, too, approved, and voila! I was now a sponsored guest of the Government of India!