Rachel Stevens Sculptor | NEPAL PROJECTS
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About This Project

In 2006, I explored the theme of journey while living and working in Nepal under the auspices of the Fulbright program. During this time I collaborated with Buddhist icon makers to create two installations that dynamically bridge East and West in content, form, and craft. They reference an axis mundi, a global symbol that takes many forms, be it a pillar, tree, tower, mountain, or ladder. Axis signifies a center where compass points converge and communication flows between celestial and earthly realms. I am drawn to verticality as a symbolic bridge between the sacred and mundane. Over the course of my career I have created several installations that reference this divine geocentric symbol.

IMG_2309As the plane descended into the Kathmandu Valley I thought it
resembled a Himalayan version of Juarez, Mexico. The rolling concrete
sprawl interspersed with vibrant green hills made for a powerful first
impression. Walking across the tarmac upon landing, I smiled at the
curtain of clouds veiling the Himalayas. Overwhelmed with gratitude,
I am so fortunate to be here. Continue Reading (PDF) »

I arrived in Patan on August, 2, 2006. Nine days later I met Santosh Shakya while exploring the backstreets of Patan in search of copper craftsmen. I had paused outside of Santosh’s statue shop and he invited me inside to see his wares. This is how our friendship began.

A few days after I met Santosh he married his sweetheart Puma.

Santosh introduced me to his uncle Sunil (right), owner of Sulav Handicrafts in Patan. Sunil was a driving force behind my future projects.

Sunil brought me to an icon workshop located on the Bagmati River. Here I stand before a Rinpoche-in-Progress. To say that I was blown away by the work in this studio is an understatement.

In the Kathmandu Valley I was also struck by ancient iconography, such as the eight-spoked wheel, the Dharmachakra.

The beauty of the festivals, ceremonial clothes and adornments were also a source for inspiration.

The crush of humanity that characterizes life in the Kathmandu Valley did not escape my attention.

I proposed creating a copper sculpture to Sunil and Santosh that would combine elements from ancient and contemporary culture. The form was comprised of a Dharmachakra melded with a bicycle wheel. A model of the wheel is shown here in wax.

Pouring the Dharmachakras at a copper foundry in Patan.

A foundry worker saws vents off of freshly cast wheels.

At Sunil’s workshop, craftsmen refine the Dharmachakras alongside of traditional Buddhist statues.

Shem the master welder assembles the hub of a Dharmachakra.

Another component of the installation was three umbrellas, each reupholstered with festival fabrics.

The Completed Installation, First Impressions: Nepal.

Sunil, Santosh and I set to work on a second installation whose primary form was the Bodhi Tree. In this image work on the tree begins under the compassionate eye of Lokeshor.

Bishou the master wax modeler rolls out wax, a preliminary form for the Bodhi Tree’s trunk.

Orchestrating the wax prototype.

Sunil stands between two brothers who are master copper foundrymen.

Copper tree limbs: freshly cast and steaming.

Santosh assembles wheels on the Bodhi treee.

On the first cold day of autumn the craftsmen helped with momo making. Sunil’s mother, Indra Kumari sits center. Her daughter Maya Devi is on the right.

Another peaceful moment with (from left to right): Anil, Puma, Santosh and Sunil Shakya. Santosh and Sunil are holding fabric leaves that will adorn the canopy of the Bodhi Tree.

Heating and bending copper branches.

Craftsmen plan the execution of a repousse (hammered copper) element of the Bodhi Tree.

My projects with Sunil and Santosh culminated in an exhibition sponsored by The American Center of the United States Embassy. Sunil’s workshop was transformed into a festive gallery of traditional and contemporary art. Dozens of visitors gathered below the Bodhi Tree for a group photograph.

The completed installation Falling Up: Meditation on Impermanence.

My last morning with the Shakyas, just hours before my flight home.

I reunited with the Shakyas in 2010. There was much catching up to do as well as becoming acquainted with Santosh and Puma’s son, Safu (shown here in Santosh’s arms).