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A life in art, seen from a glasshouse

Opaque, translucent and transparent, in earthy hues of red, orange, purple, brown, green, black and white, shaped like bowls, vases, tall glasses, little bottles and dishes, with wavy patterns and straight lines, some with hand-drawn images of trees, animals and ethnic patterns. The art is glass blowing and the creator is Srila Mookherjee, an artist practising a rather unusual art form.

The 43-year-old began with ceramics, completing a year-long diploma course in industrial design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, in 1984. The same year, she went off to Lapland, in Finland, for nine months, on two work-experience stints, an apprenticeship in a design studio and as an assistant to a potter. However, her heart was in glass, and it was in the UK that she began her love affair with it, by the end of ’84.

Mookherjee spent over two years living and learning in London, working in different glass houses and honing her skills. She returned home in 1987, with one aim — starting her own workshop. For more than a year, she “ran from pillar to post”, getting loans and finding the right materials — “I was determined to do it myself, and only with indigenous equipment” — finally achieving her end, christened Aakriti, on Garcha 1st Lane, in 1988.

“Glass blowing is an age-old occupation, and people, including women, have been doing it for centuries, like making bulbs,” the mother of two explains. But although in the West it has been an art for decades, Mookherjee was “one of the first” to elevate glass blowing to the artistic platform in India. She’s come a long way from her first exhibition in Calcutta a decade ago (“my proudest moment”), having done several shows, solo and group, in India. Her latest show is now on at Oxford Bookstore.

And the woman from Ballygunge still finds time for studies, the last one being a course in glass casting, in Turkey, earlier this year, which is what Mookherjee hopes to pursue next, through her creations.

She’s at her workshop early most mornings — 5.30 am in summer and 7 am in winter — melting chunks of clear glass. “Because the temperature of the furnace is above 1,200 degrees, it’s too hot to work after 10 am. Also, it’s a habit from the days of power-cuts. Load-sheddings were far less frequent at night. So I would light the furnace, which has to be on for 12 hours before the glass is melted, and return in the morning,” she smiles.

“I just love the spontaneity and the instantaneous result of glass blowing,” Mookherjee sums up, commenting on her chosen medium of artistic expression.

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