Paper mache is a decorative art. This artform, born in Persia – a land known for bringing such rich culture and heritage to the world, was highly favored by the Mughal Emperors. This unique craft involves the use of paper pulp for creating beautiful artifacts painted by expert craftsmen.
Paper Mache objects produced in Kashmir 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. Paper Mache 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 Paper 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 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 a 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 sand papered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer. The colors for painting designs on the surface are obtained by grinding and soaking various vegetable mineral dyes in pigment or stone form.
Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of Paper Mache, and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world.