Vana Ford, Vasnas Designs

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Vana Ford is the creative behind Vasnas Designs, located at Jacaranda House in Cameron Street, Wauchope. Vana’s most recent tour of India, where she explored textiles and various women’s programs with some fellow travellers, has led to an exhibition at Jacaranda House – which will be on show until April 13.

Hi Vana. Describe how the concept for your recent trip to India evolved …

Last month I fulfilled one of my dreams – coordinating a textile tour of incredible India!

The trip was about six months of planning, and I worked together with a tour operator in India.

Our group was 10 in the end, including me and my husband, Greg, who was the only male!

Of the group, five of us were local, two from Brisbane, two from the far North Coast and one from Sydney. Six of the ten had not previously visited India.

Had you visited India previously?

For me, it was the fourth trip.

The first time I went to India was in 2006, as a participant in a teachers’ tour. There were 18 of us.

We flew into Kolkata, and then went by bus north to Darjeeling and Sikim and then across India, ending in Delhi. I had always been interested in India – there was a mystique surrounding it, and especially as a young girl growing up in the late sixties/early seventies, India was the place. I studied Indian art and architecture for my HSC!

Trip two was in 2009. I was the recipient of the North Coast Leadership Fellowship. The Department of Education awarded a fellowship to each education region in NSW each year. My field of inquiry was Internationalisation of Curriculum in and through the Arts.

How did your business, Vasnas Designs, come about … and how does it function?

I retired from schools in 2014 and started my own business. Vasnas Designs grew out of my passion for Asian arts and crafts and in particular, textiles! I had always wanted to be a fashion designer, so I decided to give it a go. My third trip to India – to visit my good friend, Jyoti (met when she came to work with me at Byabarra Public School as part of a teacher exchange program) in Delhi and to take part in an artist residency program in Jaipur at the Art Inn with Devena Singh, where I was to learn about block printing and also about dyeing with indigo.

In the second year of operation, I moved the business into Jacaranda House in Wauchope and started the Jacaranda House Creative Hub. I have my shop there and my sewing studio, and Angela Marr-Grogan, Marrang Art, has her studio there also. We have a small gallery in the building and exhibit works from local artists there, changing the exhibition each three weeks.

I also take works from local artists and artisans in my shop on a commission basis. Kerry Wheeldon (pottery), Mark Riddle (wood), Bob Munroe (wood turning) Rebecca Randall (jewellery), Auntie Isabel (painted jewellery) and Nancy O’Brien (pottery) are represented.

I hand make a lot of beaded jewellery and some clothing, which I also sell in the shop. Most of my stock has been carefully selected by me and brought back from my travels, or it’s local.

Angela and I have been working together on a beautiful range of sterling silver jewellery and silk scarves.

Women Gathering connects cultures: featuring Angela’s imagery, my designs, and block printed with Indian wooden blocks or the silver crafted in Celuk, Bali. It’s unique Aboriginal art.

Jacaranda House also provides a Creative Education Fund. Please tell us more about this …

The Jacaranda House Creative Education fund was started last year. The fund aims to encourage young artists by providing financial assistance and other opportunities, including mentoring.

We will have the first event this year – an art competition for school aged children for NAIDOC Week. Limited to 50 entries, 30 x 30 canvases will be given to fifty children to produce an artwork around the theme: Our Languages Matter. The artworks will be displayed at Jacaranda House during NAIDOC week, and 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes will be awarded in primary age and secondary age sections – six prizes altogether. We will be conducting some fundraising for this event.

Describe you most recent tour of India in more detail …

The textile tour started in Delhi, where we attended the Indian Republic Day parade on 26th January. We had our own bus, with two seats each. Next was Agra, to see the Taj Mahal and then to Rajasthan Jaipur, where we did a block printing workshop at Art Inn. We had sent our designs for wooden blocks to Devena, and the master block maker, Raju, had all our blocks ready for us to use. Gopalji, a block printer with over 20 years’ experience, was our tutor.

We had taken an overlocker and a sewing machine, which we left at an art inn, to be used by the local women as we introduced the Days for Girls program to local women and their daughters. Emma Heath, who lives in Ellenborough, initiated our support for this program. Basically, it involves teaching the girls to make and use reusable menstrual pads, with the idea being that they can continue with their normal routine for the whole month. There is a lot of shyness around open discussion about menstruation in India, so the whole introduction of the program and distribution of kits (pads and underpants) was very well received.

We took the remaining kits to Udaipur, to Sadhna (a group supporting women by providing them with work in the form of sewing – they can attend the workrooms or do piecework at home.)

Only 20 – 30 minutes from Jaipur is Sangener. Here we were treated to an indigo dyeing with shibori tie and dye techniques, with award winning Indigo artist Brij Ballabh Udaiwal. Our bus could barely squeeze down the narrow dirt path on the way there and at one point we had to stop, as the power lines were too low. Luckily, one of the local residents had a ladder, and our guide was able to hold up the power lines by pushing up the ladder, so the bus could safely pass!  And yes, the same procedure was used on the way back!

After Jaipur (pink city) and Sangener we went to Jodhpur (blue city), to the magnificent fort there, via Pushkar, where we visited The Stitching Project – another social enterprise to employ local women in stitching etc. and this one started by Fiona Wright (an Australian) – experienced haggling in the local market and visited Bishnoi village, to see the potters and durry (rug) weavers.

Then to Udaipur – the white city, where we participated in a tie and dye (bandhani) workshop using three natural colours – indigo/lapis for blue, turmeric for yellow and cochineal for red.

That saw the end of Rajasthan. We went on to Gujarat – first to Ahmedabad, where we went to a textile factory – Arvind Mills. Mostly we were in the denim section – firstly the design room, and later the noisy weaving room and dyeing rooms. We also went to another dyeing plant, where workplace safety was not yet discovered!

We went on to Bhuj, and the Kutch region of Gujarat after one night at Dasada, where we went on safari and saw the wild ass and thousands of pink flamingos!

Before heading to bustling Mumbai and the end of our trip, we spent a few days in Bhuj.

In 2001 there was a powerful earthquake in Bhuj, and there is still evidence of the destruction. Bhuj is the centre of the Kutch region of Gujarat. There are many small villages in the area, where traditional handicrafts are still practiced – beautiful embroideries, block printed and naturally dyed fabrics – a huge range. We went to Ajrakhpur (this place had been completely destroyed during the earthquake and rebuilt). The Ajrakh style of printing takes around 23 steps from preparing the fabric to the finished product. Our workshop was around block printing.

As a result of your most recent amazing tour of India, there will be an exhibition at Jacaranda House in Wauchope. What dates can we view this exhibition?

Reflections – Stamping around India –  A Textile Trail, will open at Jacaranda House at 5:30pm, 24th March and continue until Thursday, 13th April (the gallery is closed Monday). Along with collected paintings, photos and textiles from India will be some work from most of the participants showing what they did in India, or how India has influenced their own art.

And upcoming exhibitions?

The next exhibition at Jacaranda House will feature paintings by local Aboriginal artist Wayne Anderson. I’m very excited about his work being at JH. But that’s another story …

Thanks Vana.

Interview by Jo Robinson.

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