Owls in Bronze Country

I have just been looking over my photos from the small town where I buy my wood statues. Is it me or do Indians try to look as mean as they possibly can when taking pictures? I have always noticed this how some very happy people can suddenly turn their normally smiling faces into vacant spaces where their smile used to reside. Back to the wood…

As usual I have over done myself. I bought entirely too much wood. Way too much wood. Heaps and heaps of wood statues! It is a problem I have. I can never say no to a good statue.

It took me 5 years of searching to find the small village where the majority of wood statues in India are produced. I met Natarajan (the unsmiling man to my right to the right of the nataraja statue) 4 years ago and have been dealing with him ever since. To be honest he is not my favorite artist to deal with. Nearly half of each visit is spent discussing price, something that after dealing with each other for 4 years should have taken a back seat by now… But his work is fantastic! Last year I ordered many larger statues that were finally completed this year. There is one 8 foot by 3 foot Ravana panel that is simply amazing as well as a 5 foot nataraja pictured above that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. In total I bought 10 statues over 7 feet. In the past ten years Lotus Sculpture has only carried 3 statues over 7 feet so this is big difference in our offerings. View a video of the wood carvers as they carve a Hindu God from wood.

The heat has been borderline unbearable. Especially when you get away from the coast and take away the breeze. I was happy to leave Natarajan and head to Swamimalai Bronze country!

After a sticky 5 hour ride I arrived in Swamimalai and went directly to Muthu’s shop. Muthu is a lively old chap who doesn’t speak a lick of english but we get along just fine. His good cheer is infectious and a smile almost always on his face, with the exception of posing for pictures of course. He has run the bronze collective in the same house that his father ran before him. He now has three sons, two of which are working with him carrying on the family traditions that is part of the culture of Swamimalai. Swamimalai is known throughout India as the place where temple bronzes are made. For 10 years I have been coming here and I am now am familiar with most of the artists. Most I simply cannot deal with because they only see the color of my skin and thus the price increases by double. Muthu is a departure from normal bronze artists in that he sees me for me, rather than a walking dollar bill. For this I am grateful as I don’t ever have to question his pricing. His work speaks for itself. He has cast some amazing bronze Ganesh statues that are yet to be completed but I can tell they are going to be fantastic. I also bought from him a full set of the 32 forms of Ganesh that are 6″ tall. I have never seen the full set before and I practically jumped out of my skin when I saw them all. He also cast a beautiful 27″ Nataraja statue as well as a 30″ Krishna statue with a beautiful bronze that he has newly designed. I can’t wait for them to arrive in the warehouse in California!

After a long day I then went to eat in my favorite parotha shop. View parotha video. A parotha is a croissant-like flaky flat bread that you dip in some type of meat based sauce, usually chicken, that I can never get enough of. I then sat for 20 minutes looking up at 4 adolescent owls that are living in the attic of a building across the street from the parotha shop as they made calls for their mother to feed them. It was such a weird contrast to see 4 very wild animals living directly above the bustling streets….Life is everywhere in India!

Cheeky Teagu

Today I have made a new friend!

I first noticed Teagu a week ago when I first arrived in India. He runs a vegetable stand next to my favorite place to eat lunch in the small seaside fishing village of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu. He was using one of his vegetables, a large eggplant to hit an older lady over the head with it as she tried to haggle on either the price or quality of his veggies or perhaps both…granted that this shopkeeper is not a man but a 10 year old boy. I eat in this small restaurant for lunch everyday I am in Mamallapuram and everyday I see some odd behavior from this precocious little boy. He is constantly scurrying over his vegetables, running to the back to pick out some tomatoes, throwing some okra onto the scale to be weighed all the while yelling at his customers with blinding speed. And each customer listens. The boy packs a vocal punch

Today I was leaving the restaurant as usual and saw some of the fattest bananas I have seen in my life that little Teagu was selling. I wanted them for a later snack and I wanted to meet this little Maharaja of Mamallapuram. I pick out my bananas while he was scolding some really old woman wearing a green sari who was waiving a cucumber at him. He picked up another cucumber and again used his patented “hit your customer on her head” trick with her which was a signal that the conversation was over and she went on her way. The whole time this kid is smiling with his gleaming set of white teeth at both her and the others waiting, myself included. I take out my camera to try to take a couple of shots of him. I get off two shots before he hops over the counter and deftly takes the camera from me and turns the camera back on me. I loved him for this! He took many shots of me all the while Im trying to tell him which button to push and how to zoom in on things. The picture of me with my hand up is me trying to tell him which button to press…We then go back to his stall and go thru the pictures we took of each other. His face beaming with joy at the pictures. He introduces himself as “Teagu” as he puts his hand over his chest. I do the same and then we part. I know our little exchange will be in my mind forever. Some traveling experiences have that little piece of magic that firmly plants the seed of a memory in your head that you will always go back to when you thinking of your travel. That is the seed that makes you want to come back again and again to have other magic memories of traveling. This will always be a part of me. I don’t think I can stop traveling for this reason, Teagu and others like him…

I have the feeling I am going to see Teagu a lot over the years and maybe even get hit in the head with some vegetables too.

Breathing Life into Stone

I first came to South India as a backpacker when I was 24. When Lotus Sculpture was just a budding idea in my head I had the good fortune to initially meet some of the artists that would help shape my ideas for what I wanted to do in my life. I have happily spent the day with two of the people who have had a profound affect on me and Lotus Sculpture: Murugan and Baskaran. When I first meet Baskaran I was full of energy thinking of the possibilities for what we could do together. Of course he took me for just another tourist with big ideas who he would never see again. Except 3 months later I was in his shop again buying statues from him and thus our business relationship was born! His star worker was a sculptor named Murugan. Murugan has since started his own shop and now I actively buy stone sculpture from both Baskaran and Murugan. Both Baskaran and Murugan are the best stone artists in my opinion in all of India. They have the uncanny ability to transform stone into a living, breathing Hindu God!

I arrived at Murugan’s workshop early in the morning. I was happy to hear from him that he has started construction on a new home for himself. I have been keeping some of the money I owe Murugan in my account. He told me today, “If I had it here I would spend it. I wanted to save it for my house. if it is with you I cant spend it.” We spoke of future plans for some statues I have in mind. I believe I will be ordering three statues that are all 4 feet tall, a meditating Shiva, a Japanese Buddha and an Avalokiteshvara statue. I love his meditating Shiva statues and I think I may be keeping his next creation for my home.

I then crossed the road to Baskaran’s workshop. Baskaran is doing quite well for himself. He now has 50 employees! When I first saw him he had only 10! He spoke to me about how hard it is to find employees. How many of his workers have left his shop because in construction or other unskilled labor jobs they are paying more salary. So many of the faces that I have seen over the years are no longer working with him.
Baskaran carves the most unbelievable Buddhas and Ganeshas I have seen in India! The Buddhas are simply stunning and the Ganeshas make you want to just hug them. I ordered 2 large Buddha sculptures from him last year. There are some minor changes we needed to do; polishing the skin and making lotus bases. I hope to have the statues ready and in Oceanside, CA by September 2012.

Tomorrow I am taking a 5 hour ride into central Tamil Nadu to visit the small village where they carve wood. I will meet the brooding Natarajan and his brother who are the main artists of the village. I am looking forward to seeing the sculptures that I ordered from them. Hopefully they will be completed.

By the way it is hot. H-O-T, HOT! 5 hours inland it will be even hotter than it is here by the sea shore.

New Beginnings in Kolkata

After my arrival one agonizingly hot day in New Delhi I was happily on my way to Kolkata, a city I haven’t been to since my first trip to India in 2002.  I was visiting Kolkata for the sole purpose of meeting a new fiberglass artist Sayak who contacted me earlier this year in the hope of Lotus Sculpture selling his fiber statues.  Upon arriving in Kolkata I was greeted with a solid wave of humidity that I remember all to well from previous trips,  The moisture surrounds you like a blanket, envelopes you and covers every inch of skin with a layer of sweat that won’t leave until you find some AC.  I’ve always loved it!  Thankfully Sayak and two of his friends also greeted me at the airport and we were off to see his workshop and to view some of the pieces I had already ordered from him some months before.

Sayak was young, only 29 which I always like.  I would rather work with someone who is truly starting out on their artistic journey so that we may grow together and have a special bond with each other years down the road.  His father, Anil i immediately gravitated too.  His one tooth grin was completely disarming and you couldn’t help but want to give him a hug and take him into your heart which happened pretty much immediately.  Anil was a pioneer of creating fiberglass statues.  When he was younger he made clay statues of Hindu Gods.  These statues would easily break and were not of good quality.  In the early 1990’s he helped in a Japanese building project in Kolkata which the Japanese builders needed him to make fiberglass pillars for a building.  His clay molds of the pillars were covered with fiberglass to make a very strong, unbreakable pillar.  He immediately saw the application to his clay statues and after his works was completed with the Japanese he started making fiberglass statues of his models of Hindu Gods rather than clay ones.  The technique has since passed to his son Sayak who carries on the family business today.

Sayak and his father Sunil are currently making 7 new designs for Lotus Sculpture all under 12 inches tall.  They gave me a detailed description of how the statues are made.  First the design is brought to life in clay.   Over the past couple of months Sayak has emailed me many designs of which I was able to adjust the hands and stance until i was happy with how they looked.   After the clay model was agreed upon Sayak would then make the master mold in a very hard plaster.  From this master mold they would make a rubber mold in which the liquid fiberglass would be poured into.  After hardening for an hour the statue would then be peeled out of the rubber mold and a Hindu God is born!  After some sanding and painting the statue is completed and ready for Lotus Sculpture!

After a couple of hours in the workshop  Sayak was anxious to show me Kolkata.  I was anxious myself.  I had fond memories of the city of Kali with its broad tree lined streets and large colonial English buildings.  We visited the old city center and walked around the markets stopping to refresh and get out of the heat with a fruit shake.  I bought a bag of lychees which I haven’t had in years.  I was addicted to them all over again popping them into my mouth at every stop we took.  We spent  a picturesque sunset with my feet wading in the Ganges as I watched adults wash and children swim in her blessed waters.  It was a wonderful day in Kolkata!  A day that started with a 6AM flight from Delhi and ended with a 10Pm flight to Chennai and the temples of South India which is where I write this now.

I anxiously am looking forward to meeting my friends Balan, Murugan and Baskaran and seeing their stone and marble creations of which i will tell you about in my next article…

Kyle Tortora Is Leaving To Asia!

Buddha TripLotus Sculpture founder,  Kyle Tortura,  is leaving very soon on a trip to Asia!

Continuing an ongoing tradition of locating quality statues from local artists,  Kyle is departing for the month of May to seek out the best Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that the Far-East has to offer.

Please join us in wishing Kyle a wonderful and productive time abroad.

Expect ongoing updates and photos within this blog detailing Kyle’s adventures!