To Who… To What? Suffering Moses

Suffering Moses Owl 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

Suffering Moses

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: elianeanderson@aol.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.

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30 responses

  1. […] Aw Diddums Jan 27, 2007 at 13:12 oclockTo Who… To What?by: Diddums   Category: Junk Shop Finds   Keywords: Art, wood, carvers, angst, collecting, charity, thrift, storesMood: DistractedListening to: Washing machine This blog is in the process of moving to WordPress. This post can be found there. […]

  2. Hi
    I’m deeply overwhelmed by you guys creating a website in our shop’s name
    My Name is shamim sadiq, am the grandaughter of suffering Moses
    we still have the same quality, never compramised with it, and am proud of my family heritage
    Please feel free to contact me for any more questions
    Shamim Sadiq
    Daughter of Mohammed Sadiq
    Granddaughter of Ghulamm Mohidin( Suffering Moses, originator)

    1. Diana Thompson | Reply

      Hello,
      I have a rug which was given to me by a missionary in India who resided there from 1935-1980. On the back it says Hand Made by “Suffering Moses” Srinagar Kashmir, India 1962. I would like to email you a picture of the rug (back and front) and would like some information if possible.
      My email is 4dianadi@gmail.com and I live in Calgary, Alberta Canada
      Thank you so much, Diana Thompson

      1. Hello Shamim, I visited Suffering Moses in 1986 with my grandmother Alys Faiz , and spent some wonderful hours with Mr. and Mrs. Moses. How lovely to come across this post and discover that so many other people have been touched by the amazing work produced there!

    2. Hello Shamim,

      I own quite a few peices of the suffering moses furniture purchased in Kashmir a long time ago. I have a dining table with 8 chairs, a sofa table, a sitting chair, a sitting love seat, a coffee table, a chest, a large 5′ tall lamp and a hand painted changing screen. Would you be able to tell me if I send you pic’s, what the valve of each peice might be for insurance purposes or for resale. Thanks, Steve

      1. Thanks Steve
        please see if u can scan the pics to my private email. I’ll see, check with my dad, and let you know
        shamim

    3. Hi My name is Basanti, Ii am sure you would be able to tell me how Fatima and Mumtaz are doing. Oh! For the wonderful times we spent at Convent— I mean they have to be your aunts. My dad used to own a shop near Precos Photo shop, or even Kashmir Book shop. We would enjoy talking with Mumtaz,s mom. I think I remember we’ll, Mumtaz went to med school. I wish I could show my son the hiatus we would play with our convent nuns and sneak to have curry puffs at Ahdoos. Who can forget the grandeur and sophistication of your Grandpa,s store?.

    4. I stumbled across a few pieces in the garage. I just searched the words I could put together and realized it was a suffering Moses surinagan kashmir or something like that. haha! Just wondering if I have a whole set, what it’s worth and kinda some more information.

    5. Hi Shamim,

      I understand this post is more than a year old. But we are desperately searching for a contact number for Suffering Moses. We had placed an order, but have misplaced your father’s card.
      I’ll be highly grateful if you could somehow forward me any contact details for Suffering Moses.

      Thanks
      Preeti
      preeti@redstonefilms.in

    6. Shamin, I knew your grandparents, your father, your uncle Javed, and your aunts when I visited Kashmir several times in the 70’s. I have. Been wondering about your family and I would love to get in touch with your father. Can you give me an email address for him? I will explain to him who I am but I think he,ll remember me. I am coming back to India soon and would love to see him and whoever of the family is still in Srinagar. DENISE

  3. Hi Shamim Sadiq, thank you for calling in! I have more comments to this topic than to anything else, with one exception. The work of Suffering Moses has made a deep impression on all those who have come across examples of it, and you have great reason to be proud.

    Thanks and best wishes from Diddums

    1. Hi
      I’m more than glad to respond to the queries you have our store. if you need to order anything from us please let me know, I can transition it for you smoothly
      I work locally promoting our stuff In IL, where I live, but because of my hectic schedule dont pursue it aggressively, but periodically my parents send me the stuff that people ask for
      Thanks
      Shamim

  4. i found the shop while treking over the umasi la in 1981 and found suffering Moses during a stopover in srinigar. I bought 2 beautifuly painted boxes and these were the only items that were with me when I returned to San Francisco . This morning I was wandering through a second hand shop and saw thes wonderful roun handpainted stand with knives and a carving set thrust into the interior and bought them. When I returned home I decided to turn the item over and Lo and Behold, Suffering Moses 1961….a joy to have a companion for my other treasured pieces. Thank u SM FJM Aug 2 2011

  5. Hello, today I went to a used furniture and trinket store and found something I HAd to buy. It was only five dollars, and I love it: a hand holding a Byzantine type of face, prominent forehead, the mouth with corners lifted as if smiling, but it’s not a smiling, it’s a pensive expression. Underneath: a strip of paper, and on it: Guaranteed mde by Suffering Moses -then canceled word and then Kashmir – other canceled word, then the word Price
    and another blank.
    Thanks to all of you I know that there are other people who love this artist and who know about him. If his family could tell me more about this piece, I would be very grateful.

  6. I have a gorgeous rug I purchased from Suffering Moses in 1970. I chose it from a small selection that he showed me at his home. It is wool, very finely knotted (the back and front of the rug are almost identical except for pile on one side). I remember him telling me that it was common to use a rug like this pile side down in warm weather. The rug was shipped to me (a long slow journey) and arrived folded in a wicker basket sewn inside a muslin bag. It has endured many moves, many cats and dogs, and is just as beautiful as the day I chose it 🙂

  7. Back in the ’70s we bought a green three-legged stool in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On the underside is “Handpainted by Suffering Moses Srinigar Kashmir India.” On the top and legs are dozens of Persian-miniature-style figures of animals and turbaned men. It is exquisite and fascinating. The medium looks like the old Duco enamel. I don’t see how he did it.

  8. I was so happy to find this website, and love the beautiful “box” my late father gave me from a friend who travel all over the world. I do not plan to sell it, but wondered if there was a value on any of these great works of art. Thanks so much, “Southern girl” Suzanne

    1. I think so many people like the work of Suffering Moses that value will be there… if not now, then in time! I don’t know anything about them myself, though. Come to think of it, I’m not sure where my owl has got to after my move! If I find him, I’ll put him on display again. 🙂

  9. I was visiting friends in Srinagar in Nov. 2011 and asked them for a good place to purchase a few gifts for friends that would be unique and of good quality…guess where we ended up?

    1. Thank you for the photo… I had a picture of it in my mind’s eye, but that’s all I had! I pictured a darker sort of shop, with shadows in the back, but smelling wonderful, of incense. Maybe it used to be like that, but it’s lovely to see the modern day photo. I had a quick look along the shelves to see if they had my owl, but can’t see it there. 😉

  10. I just purchased a small old-what I believe to be a paperweight, made of a heavy wood. It has a black background and has wild hare(rabbits of some sort) dancing around it as well as another horned animal. It is beautifully done and something I will no doubt always have-for no real reason, other than how nicely done it is. I bought it from an estate in SW FL just this weekend.

  11. I too found items in our family home and was trying to research Suffering Moses who apparently was the creator of a set of 4 nesting hancarved tables I found, brought too by a missionary back to our area in the 30’s or so. I wonder if the wood is chinar mentioned in another article I read about a same set of tables in a restaurant in San Fransisco. I would like to know the wood, golden light and with varied attractive ribboning tones, and some idea of the value for resale, since I have become the owner now of far too much stuff and it is time for others to discover and cherish this mystery.

  12. Hello all.

    Can somebody tell me the real reason why this shop was named Suffering Moses. With historical perspective. Its been intriguing ma mind since a long time

  13. I am a 86 year old lady who was in the Foreign Service in India in 1950-52. I visited Kashmir with friends and lived on a houseboat on Dal Lake for a couple of weeks. At that time Suffering Moses was a small shop on a houseboat. The shop owner seemed like an old man to me. I was 25 years old. I bought a beautiful carved wooden lying down horse with the Suffering Moses label on the bottom. Since then I have collected about fifty more of what. I call “lazy horse” items to keep it company. Recently I was delighted to find a ceramic one “handcrafted by Alaskan eskimos” that is an exact duplicate in pose as my Suffering Moses one from 1950. The Alaskan figures are white with streaks of brown.

  14. It was 1972 when I was shopping in a leather shop in Srinagar when I heard what I have to describe as a high whiskey tenor voice speaking English. It sounded somehow familiar and when I turned to see who was speaking, I saw the impossible: my old roommate from college. “Pete, what the hell are you doing here?” Pete said, with mocked chagrin, my sister Mary is marrying Suffering Moses.” “Pete”, said I, “are you still drunk?” “Well, I wish I were, but these Muslims don’t allow alcohol…do you have any?” Pete then took me to meet his future brother-in-law, Suffering Moses. Later in his gallery, I spotted a small chest carved from walnut with lotus flowers sculptured in it and I wanted it. Mr. Moses said it was his only one and therefore couldn’t be sold. But he would ask the blind man to make one for me. “He is very old now and only carves when inspired to recite poetry. If he makes one, it will be his last and will take maybe a year.” The blind poet did carve his last chest which I received ten months later. Suffering Moses and I continued corresponding for many years.

    1. Your sister may recognize the name Ernie Campbell, the son of missionaries, who grew up in India and later became my boss in Saigon, VN, just before the fall of it. I don’t remember Ernie’s specific connection, but some of us leaving VN were traveling to India on our way back to the states. We were advised to go visit Suffering Moses and remember Ernie to him. That was in 1975. Upon mentioning Ernie’s name, we were treated royally. In addition to some great shopping, we were advised on house boat rental and other things naive travelers need help with. I was reminded of this today, having a visit with an Indian physician who had just been back there, including a trip to Kashmir. When I mentioned Suffering Moses, her face lit up, and she began talking about her purchases. Just wanted to share my memories.

  15. I just saw the comment before mine where Abdul Murqeet wonders about the “historical perspective” of the name “Suffering Moses.” Mr. Moses told me that the name originated by the British who gave his grandfather that name because he worked with such grace and diligence.

  16. I have visited Srinagar twice, first in 1956 and again in 1986. Both times I visited Suffering Moses in his shop on a houseboat on a canal in Srinagar. I still have the items I bought on both trips. I think the owner has told several versions of the origin of the name over the years. The one I was given in 1956 was that when he was opening his shop he asked a British officer for suggestions. After a while the officer threw up his hands in despair and said, “Well suffering Moses, I have no idea.”

    1. That’s a good one. 🙂

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