Kipling and art instruction - II

The daunting task of recruiting the students

Kipling and art instruction - II

Kipling stressed the need for a variety of subjects as part of curriculum to provide stimulus of change for students. Competitive time sketching and sketching from memory for one day every week would be in Kipling’s view, an efficacious exercise to this end. He also proposed that instruction in woodcarving, lithography and copper etching was necessary for all students, during the first three grades. However, in the fourth grade, the aptitude and the will of the respective students would hold precedence.

As Kipling put it, "…the instruction should begin to have special reference to the work by which the student proposes to earn his bread".

Recruiting the students suited to the peculiarity of Art instruction was a daunting task for both Kipling and Major Holroyd. The system of art instruction was rooted in the centuries old mechanism of apprenticeship tied up with such indigenous institutions like Karkhana and Gharana. Persuading the most eligible youth from occupational groups  like mistree or rungsaz proved  intractable because the mode of instruction in MSA was out of sync with their sensibility and cultural ethos. The British method of art instruction could be relevant to those already exposed and initiated in the western notions of art and culture, English language and elementary mathematics or geometry.

Therefore, Major W.J. Holroyd wrote to the inspectors of schools and the principals of colleges in the Punjab "calling for lists of candidates from Government Schools who may wish to enter the school of art". Just to lure them to the field of Art, Holroyd subsequently proposed to offer stipends to youngsters who had better acquaintance with English.

Kipling concurred although he wanted such provision extended to students with ‘promise’ on the condition that they would be withdrawn, "on the holders proving inept, inattentive, or mis-conducting themselves". In fact, Kipling was not forthcoming in dangling material incentives to the students; hence he was opposed to free education and considered "paying a fee is more agreeable to the self-respect of such persons as clerks and the better class of natives".

Kipling emphasised the need for maintaining full records of students’ background and date of entry to the college. There was also to be a specimen of their unaided efforts. The school clerk was duty bound to keep a register of daily attendance which was one method of preserving order of the school. Kipling was not against the traditions entrenched in the Punjabi milieu; rather he thought of engaging every student to his ancestral profession.

He deemed their acquaintance with the basic drawing method as a vital skill, which was not as simple a task as it seemed. It amounted to initiating a whole lot of students -- who had imbibed centuries’ old artistic ethos rooted in oral tradition -- in an entirely different tradition. Kipling set himself to the task of replicating the South Kensington way of doing arts. To him Masjid Wazir Khan was as an excellent object of learning for his students. The principal’s annual reports amply corroborate that fact. Year after year, students of the School produced careful copies of its designs to improve upon their designing skills. It was one way of paying tribute to the artisans who conceived and created one of the most stunningly beautiful designs ever made in South Asia.

While designing a building for the Lahore Museum, Kipling uncannily referred to Masjid Wazir Khan that reflected his obsession with that building as he once said that "It is not probable that we should at once surpass the beautiful work on Wazir Khan’s mosque, but we could certainly produce something of a distinctive and artistic character, which might result eventually in the resuscitation of a dying craft".

The initial intake in 1875-6 comprised 88 students of whom 49 were Muslims, 24 Hindus, 12 Sikh, and 3 Christian boys. All of them hailed from the middle ranks of the Punjabi society with quite a few of them belonging to the occupational group of artisans. Representation of the munshi or naukri pesha class also had a fair representation in the student body of the school. The former, as reported by the principal in his annual report, showed "considerable aptitude" and "great interest" in their work, whilst the latter evinced little interest and earnestness.

In the overall estimation of the principal, the students did better than his expectation, with many of them said to have begun to "exhibit special technical aptitudes". In the first year, a majority of students were instructed in the elements of drawing from demonstrations on the blackboard and flat examples, while some of them were taught to draw from objects.

In his recommendations, Kipling envisaged the first efforts of the school might well be devoted to an attempt to train a few men to assist in building the physical infrastructure, and also in administrative as well as academic business of the School of Art and Museum. That wish came true when promising young men like Bhai Ram Singh, Khan Bahadur Munshi Sher Muhammad, Muhammad Din, Amir Buksh, Miran Baksh and Edwin Holder returned to teach and assist in the administration of the school. Bhai Ram Singh and Sher Muhammad were prized scions of Mayo School who made lasting contributions by projecting the utilitarian image of their parent institution. Consequently, within a few years of its existence the school established enough reputation to undertake several assignments of designing furniture for the institutions like Government College Lahore and the Punjab Club, preparing wood block advertisement, maps, and plans for the C&MG, and a carved showcase for the Melbourne Exhibition in 1879. These assignments apart, the students trained at the Mayo School were very easily employed by the Government Departments like Public Works or in Schools as Art instructors. In 1879 Kipling set up a potter’s kiln "to direct terracotta as the future decorative material for official buildings in the Punjab".

Besides catering to the needs of its own students, the school also facilitated the boys of the carpentry school, functioning at the veranda of Directors office, by providing them elementary instruction in reading and writing the vernacular and arithmetic. Kipling had an extraordinary interest in setting up such industrial schools, subject to the availability of sufficient resources, under the super-ordination of the Principal of the School of Industrial Art. These schools could act as nurseries, by supplying from amongst their pupils the best possible material for the School of Art.

The school of carpentry came under the direct supervision of Kipling as early as 1876. It entailed its merger with the Mayo School of industrial art. Its pupils formed over a third of the total numbers of the school of industrial art.

The steady growth in the range of courses that were offered registered increase in the strength of the student. The process of instruction was initially confined only to basic elements of drawing performed on the black board or teaching a few youngsters to draw from objects in 1875-76 but, within four years of its existence, instruction was provided in moulding, photography, wood engraving, arithmetic, elementary geometry, lithography, gesso-work and decoration.

Kipling attached extraordinary importance to the principles of Oriental Design in all architectural and decorative work. Having said that, the discourse of art instruction employed in the school was western to the core, giving rise to synthetic pattern of design in which east and west strived to hold each other in an embrace of sorts, however clumsy it might seem.

The drawings and designs exhibited at the Art Exhibition at Simla (held in 1876) very evidently exemplified such pattern where the drawings of Sher Muhammad earned acclaim and acknowledgement probably because they carried both the influences. Those drawings also won laurels for Lockwood Kipling who was teacher-patron of Sher Muhammad and many other youngsters of his ilk. Sher Muhammad was not alone in winning prizes for his work. In the autumn of 1882 the Patiala prize was secured by one of the students for a watercolor picture of the front of Masjid Wazir Khan. Another student exhibited a picture of the corner of the same building which was sold along with the former. A third student got a prize of Rs 50 for a design for a reading room and the library at Dera Ismail Khan. A fourth student won bronze medal and a small money prize at the Jaipur.

Read the final part of the three-part series here.

Kipling and art instruction - II