From Bengal Weaves to French Blues

by - Friday, November 06, 2009

On October 25th, Bappa (Bappaditya) Biswas delivered his lecture When we work with Weavers. He described his childhood growing up as the only son in a joint family with the heavy expectation that he would take over the family plantation of tea and pineapple in Bengal. Bappa kept getting away, however, and he made the decision to work with handweavers as part of his formal education in the arts. It was not an easy beginning - the weavers would have to turn down paid work in order to commit to Bappa's project and few were willing to do so. Eventually, Bappa found one weaver who was willing to take that chance - a skilled weaver who had polio when he was young. He could not weave as quickly as the others but he was knowledgeable and willing to experiment.

Bappa now has several families working from their homes. "we must be very careful before we take someone on" he said. "because we commit to providing employment throughout the year." Bappa also gave a short history of the region and explained how weaving communities were formed and migrated. The question and answer session was lively and the audience appreciated the generous spirit and humour which came through in Bappa's talk.

On October 26th Denise Lambert spoke about the revival of Woad by Bleu de Lectoure. This european blue has been found on the shutters of stone farmhouses in the south of France. The paint was centuries old yet it held its colour - retaining a hue that the French know as pastel. It took more than two years working with chemists from the University of Toulouse for the Lamberts to uncover the original fermentation, extraction, and dyeing processes to get blues from the woad plant. In an antiques store one day, fate helped them out: they stumbled upon a notebook that belonged to Napoleon’s chemist.

Denise gave a fast paced lecture that packed a substantial amount of information into her time on stage. After her presentation Denise called Henri up to explain some of the chemistry. He was also able to talk about the incorporation of woad pigment into plastics and other media. The couple appeared completely attired in woad dyed clothing - down to Henri's eyeglass frames.

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