Archive for January, 2009

Every screening of Creating Buddhas is a wonderful opportunity to connect with curious, appreciative people and to share something about a world and an art form I love to talk about. But last Saturday’s screening at the Drikung Kyobpa Choling Tibetan Meditation Center in Escondido, California was extraordinary. A couple of surprise guests helped me to see how valuable and important this film is.

Two Tibetans — Lekshay, a fabric thangka maker and good friend of my teacher Dorjee Wangdu, and Tenzin, son of Namsa Chenmo, personal tailor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Both have lived in San Diego for a number of years. Though I didn’t recognize him at first, Lekshay was a frequent visitor to the tsemkhang (sewing workshop) during my apprenticeship. As we talked on Saturday, the memories moved closer. His daughter had found the Creating Buddhas on YouTube and had told her father who recognized my name. So they responded enthusiastically to the center’s invitation for a screening.

I was a bit anxious sharing the film with Tibetans. I had had a similar feeling a week before as thangka painter, Pema Namdol Thaye, watched in Pasadena. I’m carrying on their tradition. I come from outside the culture. Will they think I’m presumptuous? Will they disagree with my statements? Will they object to the ways I’ve evolved my technique?

After the film, my doubts dissolved. During the question-and-answer session, Lekshay and Tenzin expressed gratitude and appreciation for the film, for Isadora’s production of it, and for my continuing production of fabric thangkas in the west. They spoke of their own limited capacity (and that of Tenzin’s father, Namsa Chenmo) to communicate in English, to present their cultural tradition effectively, and they thanked Isadora and me for doing it. They, and I, were almost moved to tears.

Sometimes I think that making silk thangkas is just too impractical. Sometimes I think of giving it up. At some of those times, a feeling of responsibility keeps me going. I feel I have a responsibility to continue, though I’m not sure to whom or to what. Last Saturday, that sense of responsibility was reinforced. Lekshay has not made thangkas for some years. Working to make a living doesn’t leave enough time. Life in the west doesn’t support this kind of work… I have always known I enjoyed favorable circumstances. Saturday I gained a renewed appreciation for just how precious my situation is. I can continue to make silk thangkas. I can teach. I can write. Not everyone can. Perhaps Lekshay and I will be able to collaborate in the future, to exhibit our work together.

This week I’m grateful for the film, for Isadora’s confidence and perseverance, for Tibetan culture, for smiles… and for YouTube.

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I was preparing to write a joyful and inspiring post tonight, recounting some very gratifying encounters at the last screening of Creating Buddhas… but then I read the sad news below. I’ll save my intended post for tomorrow and dedicate my thoughts tonight to the precious teacher Sangye Yeshi and to many dear friends who were his students. Gen Sangye Yeshi played an invaluable role in carrying traditional Tibetan culture and art into the contemporary world. Many young artists continue to nurture the tradition today as a result of his training.

Fire at Ghangchen Kyishong, one dead

Phayul [Monday, January 26, 2009 18:27]

Dharamsala, Jan. 26 – A two-storeyed staff quarters’ building of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives here caught fire around 2PM today. One person was killed in the tragic incident. The deceased was Ven. Sangay Yeshi, former master of thangka painting (scroll art) at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The library is located in the premises of Ghangchen Kyishong, the headquarters of the exile Tibetan government.

In a quick succession of events, two blasting sounds were heard while the building was still on fire. Witnesses say the blasts were of two cooking cylinders. However, the fire did not spread to the lower storey of the building.

The firefighters soon arrived on the scene and started extinguishing the blaze. Due to steep height of the building from ground level, the water pressure was inadequate to bring the fire under control. However, the fire was brought under control in about 3 hours.

Exile Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche and minister for security Ngodup Donchung visited the site immediately.

Also present at the fire site were Indian officials from the local district administration including the Superintendent of Police, Kangra, and District Commissioner.

Ven. Sangay Yeshi was 86 and one of the last masters of traditional thangka painting in the exile Tibetan community.

The LTWA earlier gave courses in Tibetan thangka painting but the course was discontinued a few years ago. A few students of Ven. Sangay had started a small thangka school in Dharamsala under his guidance and support.

The LTWA is the official National Library, Museum and Archive. The library is now a repository for significant collections of artifacts, manuscripts and other records, while also serving as a centre for language and cultural education.


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View from my window this morning

View from my window this morning... and I'm supposed to fly to California tomorrow!

At Alyson Stanfield’s suggestion, I’ve taken some time to review my accomplishments of this past year. Alyson referred to activities related to one’s art career but I’ve thrown in a few others too, just ‘cuz it makes me feel good to recognize them. Try this for yourself. If you’ve had a year of struggle, it might help you to shift your focus and realize the many ways you’ve come through.

In no particular order, here are some things I’m happy to have done in 2008:

  • I started this blog!
  • I wrote an article about the silk thangka tradition and posted it on Squidoo.
  • I made prints available on demand at Fine Art America and finally sold a few last month.
  • I joined various online arts communities.
  • I participated in local Milan activities with the Professional Women’s Association, Democrats Abroad, a reading group at Libreria Melting Pot, and the Comunita’ Dzogchen.
  • I showed a thangka and sold postcards at HH the Dalai Lama‘s teachings in Nottingham, England.
  • The Centro Mindfulness Project hosted a solo exhibition of my artwork!
  • Barbara Cornell wrote a review of my exhibition and film, and Reuters published it!
  • I took Christine Kane‘s e-seminar and signed up for her Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat!
  • I was invited to give a talk at the University of Bologna next spring.
  • I learned machine quilting and got a sewing machine!
  • I experimented with dyeing my silk… lots more work to do…
  • I took a mixed media e-course at Joggles, taught by Alma Stoller, and made this.
  • Then I started offering my own e-Lessons on making silk thangkas!
  • I took a workshop with Cherilyn Martin at Creative Days Ticino in Cadro.
  • I inquired about PhD programs and may begin an MA in the History of Asian Art next fall.
  • I took the GRE and did about as well at 48 as I did at 24.
  • I participated in group exhibitions in Italy and the US (Acqui Terme (end of 2007), Rocca Brivio, PatchMed, New Fibers).
  • Three Mongolians was juried into the New Fibers exhibition of the Fiber Arts Network in Michigan.
  • I taught English at the British Institutes in Milan and enjoyed it!
  • We elected Barack Obama as president!
  • I started learning to play golf.
  • I did two lake swims — one 1.5 kilometers and the other 1.2!
  • I got counseling.
  • I got Rolfed!
  • (Except for the last two months when things got a bit too crazy) I meditated and worked out regularly.
  • I recognized when circumstances were beyond my control.
  • I opened my heart to family and friends,
  • and I got happy again!
  • I finished two new-style artworks (Nomad Girls, which I still have to post, and Chenrezig) as well as a traditional thangka (Green Tara).
  • The documentary film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost was released in Wisconsin!
  • With help from Cecilia Mari and Roberto Ciscato, I subtitled the film in Italian and showed it in Milan!

Whew! All in all, it seems there’s quite a lot to celebrate. Let me know what you’re celebrating.

And here’s to creating a great 2009!

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