MEERA MUKHERJEE (1923–1998)
Meera Mukherjee was an artist, writer and sculptor. She was born in Calcutta to Dwijendramohan Mukherjee and Binapani Devi. Aged 14 she joined Abanindranath Tagore’s art classes at the Indian Society of Oriental Arts. She studied there till her marriage in 1941, which interrupted her career for a while, but soon ended in divorce. She then enrolled in the Government School of Art in Calcutta and the Delhi Polytechnic, Delhi, and took a diploma in painting, graphics and sculpture. She then moved to Shantiniketan in West Bengal, where she worked for a while under the Indonesian painter Effendi. She received in 1953 a scholarship to study in Munich, where she worked under Toni Stadler and Heinrich Kirchner. On returning she taught as art teacher at Dowhill School in Kurseong from 1957 to 1959, then at Pratt Memorial School in Kolkata till 1960. From 1960 onwards, she pursued her research in metal casting techniques in both classical and folk art traditions.
She began to work with the tribal artisans of Bastar and to learn techniques from bell metal craftsmen in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. She mounted her first show in 1960. By the 1960s she had achieved recognition for her work and in 1968 was awarded the President’s Award of Master Craftsman in metalwork. From 1969 she funded her own tours in Madhya Pradesh but later received a two-year stipend from the Anthropological Survey of India to assist her research. She used the cire perdu or lost wax method, basing her style on that of the dokra craftsmen of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh, Nepal and Bengal. Later she worked with master craftsmen of South India in Bangalore. She was a senior Research Fellow with the Anthropological Survey of India from 1962 to 1964, and documented ritual vessels and items in bell metal in India and Nepal.
She would take many months on each piece and did not more than six or seven in a year. She worked on large- and small-scale works, and her figures have a quiet poise. They include archetypal figures such as the archer, bowman and boatswain, as well as figures from daily life. Based in Calcutta, she exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world. She also received an Emeritus Fellowship from the Indian government. Her works are in a number of private and public collections in India and abroad.
Her major works include ‘Ashoka in Kalinga’ and ‘Earth Carriers’. She learnt classical Hindustani music for many years, and musicians and dancers were often subjects of her sculpture. She was also a fine children’s writer, with books like Kalo and the Koel, Little Flower Shefali and Other Stories, and so on.
She won the Press Award for Master Craftsman in 1968, the Kolkata Ladies’ Study Group Award in 1976, and the West Bengal Government’s Abanindra Prize in 1981. She held a fellowship from the Ministry of Culture from 1984 to 1986. She published Folk Metalcraft in India (1978), Metal Craft in India (1978) and Metal Craftsmen in India (1979). She identified herself with the inhabitants of the village near Kolkata where she did her casting.