Apologies for the long silence – things have not been all that quiet behind the scenes at Diddumsville. There’s a possibility I will move (houses, not blogs) but my mind is not yet set. More on that in time.
Meanwhile, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any Junk Shop Finds, and one of my most recent is a ‘must’. In Sue Ryders, the hook nose and spooky ‘ears’ of this wooden owl caught my attention, and I picked it up for a closer look. On the underside of its perch is a sticker: ‘Guaranteed hand made by Suffering Moses, Srinagar-Kashmir (India).’ It was £2 but is one of those items that you put down, pick up, put down, step two paces away from, then whirl back to grab it. It’s smooth to the touch and well-finished, and I like the look of it. When I got it home, I didn’t set it down in a dusty corner and forget about it – I sat and stared at it for a long time.
I was intrigued about who or what this Suffering Moses might be; a search via Google turned up several links. It’s apparently a craft shop in India owned by an artisan.
Why ‘Suffering Moses?’ This blog post by Jawahara Saidullah provides a clue.
Srinagar – the eternal building site (some fascinating observations).
I feel now as though I’ve stumbled upon an Aladdin’s lamp – there’s a little bit of history and magic there. Maybe if I rub the owl three times and whisper in his ear, he’ll grant me a wish or six.
Edit Feb 2008: There were 29 comments on this post at the old site — crike! Have just copied across the more informative ones here… thanks to all who have commented.
1. Jawahara Saidullah wrote at Jan 30, 2007 at 00:05:
Here is the short posting I had written about Suffering Moses:
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
The 19th century essayist and poet, Matthew Arnold said, “Excellence is not common and abundant. On the contrary, as the Greek poet long ago said, excellence dwells among rocks hardly accessible, and a man must almost wear his heart out before he can reach her.”
Perhaps almost wearing your heart is the cost of excellence, the price of creation.
When I was fifteen I took my first and only trip to Kashmir, not realizing that generations would grow up thinking of that enchanted place not as the paradise we did, but as a battleground.
There was this shop in Srinagar owned by this old artist/artisan who made the most exquisite papier mache, (not the stuff you get in the state emporia), delicate, multi-layered, intricate flawless pieces. He signed all his work on the bottom, in a sprawling calligraphic signature…the same name as his store, ‘Suffering Moses.’ His name was Moses. I had to know, had to ask him, ‘Why Suffering Moses?”
He looked at me, intently, his eyes a strange shade somewhere between green and grey, the pink skin of his cheeks glowing, “Young lady. How else could I make anything beautiful? Only by suffering, right? I suffer for my art. You create nothing good if you don’t suffer.”
And that to me, is the relationship between excellence and suffering. Thank you Suffering Moses wherever you are.
2. savaaha wrote at Feb 8, 2007 at 00:55:
I have a small wooden box made by the same man. It looks to be made to hold 2 decks of cards. Its painted breathtakingly with Indian polo players and then laquared over the paint. I know nothing of the box but its very beautiful. It was fond in the ceramics shop my mother bought and was hidden away in the back on a shelf.
I would love more info Savaaha(at)gmail(dot)com
3. Sherry wrote at Mar 17, 2007 at 06:52:
Holy Suifferin’ Moses,Batman! i just had a strange thing ahppne- afriend showedmeapieceodofdd sculpture-small beautifull like a littlevase..kinda..and she said “read the bottom..” sure enough ‘Hand madeby suffering moses’…..we kept thinking we hadtofind out about it and there you are..how very odd but cool..
4. Diddums wrote at Mar 17, 2007 at 11:04:
LOL – there seems to be an unofficial Suffering Moses club, as there are more than a few of us searching for answers. I’ll have to search again later to see if any new sites have appeared.
5. Savaaha wrote at Mar 18, 2007 at 02:11:
Here are photos of the box I have. I had to go get it from my moms to get the pics.
more pics are here.
6. Marius wrote at Mar 22, 2007 at 00:30:
…a long time ago, I lived in Srinagar, situated in Kashmir – northern India. The city are surrounded by mountains at the Himalayan foothills. When the frosty winter bid adieu, and all the landscape of Kashmir underwent the metamorphosis to summer, people from all over hot India came to Srinagar to be relieved and chilled: they relaxed while laying down, eating and drinking on the intimate soft sofas under the canopies of the Shikara boats, drifting like in heaven on the lakes Dal and Nagin. The labyrinth of rivers with its numerous bridges took them to a hidden world; the cooling breeze in the alleys under the shadows of the majestic Chinar trees made everyone grateful. In the evening they went to the Oberoi, palace of the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, to drink tea with saffron from Pampore in the garden, and admire the fabulous panorama of Dal Lake with its hundreds of characteristic houseboats made from cedar. No wonder why the Moghuls chose to build some of the worlds most spectacular gardens in exactly these surroundings.
In a silent area of Srinagar, between the old main Post Office and a colonial building that housed Grindlays Bank, lay an extraordinary shop that sold objets d’art of papier mâché and woodcarvings of walnut, as well as more common quality handicrafts. The place had a magic aura indeed. The second floor gallery was run by the mysterious and highly charismatic Moses, an old wise man, a leader of an occult religious group. His wife was surprisingly from America, and he continued a family tradition that had lasted for unknown centuries. I always went to his place on my way home from downtown. A river ran just a few steps from the front of the shop, and I had to cross it with a boat at exactly this spot to get to my house on the other side.
Moses explained how he had been trained to become a painter as a little boy at the very beginning of the 20th century; the first years he was only allowed to draw circles on paper; after that period he justifyingly added the name Suffering. He also found pleasure in simple things, and I soon learned that he collected stamps, so I used to bring him all I could find. He was not too eager to part with his best items, and he wished that potential customers of his finer works should be aware what they purchased. On several occasions I witnessed him asking certain customers to leave his shop and never return, with the explanation that they did not understand the slightest of art. I was lucky to be able to purchase some of his most outstanding items, among them a mortar and pestle in papier mâché, the outside with miniature animals in a pale green landscape, the inside with dense, whorling flowers in real gold on a cream background. Suffering Moses made it around 1915.
His son and grandson also had high quality shops just a short walk from the master himself. Eventually, I became a painter myself – perhaps driven by my subconscious, inspired by this happy time in my life.
Marius Holmby, Norway
7. Sam Suitt wrote at Jul 7, 2007 at 13:06:
I am delighted to have stumbled across theses comments. I was in Srinagar in 1979, and discovered Suffering Moses. You are right about the beauty and the quality – I purchased and still have many paper mache and carved wood objects, most of which I still have. At the time, I had no reason for buying them except that they were simply too beautiful not to buy. And that still seems to have been a pretty good reason, as I have never seen the likes of what I have anywhere else.
8. Diddums wrote at Jul 7, 2007 at 22:31:
Hi Sam, glad you stopped by. There was definitely quality in that owl I found, and in everything else by Suffering Moses, it seems. I wish I could find more, but maybe that would be too much good luck. I was reminded of it a few days ago, though – we found a stock of ‘Indian furniture’. I have no information about the actual source of this furniture but it could well have come from India. It was very beautiful – heavy and smooth with lovely colours in the wood. It made me think of the Suffering Moses owl.
9. Carol Hardesty wrote at Jul 11, 2007 at 19:19:
I just bought a Suffering Moses plate made in 1960 by Suffering Moses. I bought it at a garage sale for ten cents. It is a wood wall plack with irises painted on it and lacquered over.
10. Diddums wrote at Jul 12, 2007 at 00:47:
Hi Carol, thanks for commenting. It seems that everybody wants to know who Suffering Moses was – I hope he would be happy to know, even though some of us find out about him when his items show up in charity shops and garage sales. My owl was actually slightly damaged at the back, but I didn’t notice – and I’m glad I didn’t. It would have made me guilty about buying it, but it’s still a nice thing to have, and you don’t see the damage when he’s positioned right.
11. tom from holland wrote at Dec 25, 2007 at 18:32:
I too have a wooden carving of a simple girl made by Sufferin Moses. My parents bought it during a trip to Srinigar in 1963 when it was still safe to visit. It was unusual, we went by car from Karachi, Pakistan over the mountains to Kashmir and stayed on a houseboat on the lake, That kind of trip would no longer be possible.
I’ll try to post a photo of the carving in the future.
12. Diddums wrote at Dec 26, 2007 at 01:25:
Hello, let me know where you post the photo, I would be interested to see it. I wonder what other pieces there are around the world.
13. Katie wrote at Jan 4, 2008 at 23:32:
I went to Srinigar in 2006, and spent many hours in the ‘Suffering Moses’ shop talking to the fascinating man who runs it, and admiring th beautiful things. It’s realy interesting to read a bit more about the history of it and to wonder how these items came to be where they are now!
14. Glenn Harman wrote at Jan 7, 2008 at 21:13:
I have a small bird from suffering Moses (label on bottom) found in a Philadelphia PA suburb auction box lot. I was trying to find out some info and came across your thread.
15. wondering wrote at Jan 9, 2008 at 19:34:
I have a box with the same label underneath as the owl above. It was my father-in-law’s. He might have bought it in Holland years ago.
Does anyone know where in the USA you can buy such artwork? Or, is it just by chance you find it?
16. haikutaxi wrote at Jan 11, 2008 at 00:12:
I was in Srinagar in 1970 and spent an evening at the home of Suffering Moses and his family. I remember the family had a pet deer wandering the grounds (a fawn, “bambi”) that he told me he had rescued from a butcher shop. Yes, his wife was American but had been in Kashmir for many years… they had 2 college age daughters when I visited, and he had at lease one older son too. His shop on the bund was beautiful, magical, filled and with wonderful things. He was a generous, kind and talented man… I’m glad his name lives on.
17. Aeronwy wrote at Jan 17, 2008 at 15:18:
I have been doing some research on some Persian rugs I acquired at auction. While in the process, I examined a silk rug I’d purchased about 5 years ago. On the back was printed ” HAND EMBROIDERED BY SUFFERING MOSES” SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, 1964.
THE RUG IS BEAUSTIFUL BUT HAD A ORANGE AREA THAT LOOKED LIKE CRAYON. I LOVED THE RICH RED RUG AND ORANGE IS MY FAVORITE COLOR, so I said, ” I can always get the big box of Crayolas and color the other side to match”. I justI Googled up “Suffering Moses” 20 minutes ago. What a wonderful surprise to find all of you. Did any of you who visited see rugs? Thanks, A. M-J
18. Eliane wrote at Jan 24, 2008 at 02:17:
Just got a set of Elephant bookends made by Suffering Moses. What kind of wood is it? It is just like this owl? email me please at: email@example.com. Thanks Eliane
19. SAPMAN wrote at Aug 23, 2008 at 23:34:
I also have a “suffering Moses” item. A pair of bookends that fold. Has painted on back handpainted by suffering moses srinagar kashmir india. Outside is painted of some type of religous ceremony. My parents probably picked it up in the 50s.
20. Elaine wrote at Nov 11, 2008 at 01:54:
I have just got a beautiful boat shaped dish from a charity shop which is Papier mache covered in exquisite flowers and lacquered. It was made by Sffering Moses in 1966. It is so nice to have found out about the man who made this so thanks to you all for the information.