Papier mache is a delicate decorative art which shows the artistic zeal of a craftsman. This art was introduced in Kashmir in the 15th Century by a Kashmiri Prince who spent years in prison at Samarkand in Central Asia. The art born in the land of Persia was highly favored by Mughal Emperors of 15th and 16th Century.
This unique craft involves the use of paper pulp for creating beautiful artifacts 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.T he 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 color 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.
Papier Mache, today, has become highly stylized and appealing by using real gold and silver paint and by adding intricate decorations. The designs and decorations of the Kashmiri Papier Mache, usually in the form of flowers and birds, have a strong Persian flavor. Among other rich designs are ‘Arabesque’, done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and ‘Yarkand’, an elaborate design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over gold scroll work. Some items like bowls and vases are lined with brass, while on special orders boxes and other items are ornamented with gold and silver leaves and depict beautiful landscapes and objects like a house boat, that form an inseparable part of Kashmiri lifestyle.
The paper 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 them extra durability.