Preserving Handicrafts in India | UW Magazine – University of Washington Magazine


In 2014, Frater partnered with the philanthropic trust of a business empire started by India’s self-styled “Sugar King” to found Somaiya Kala Vidya, adding a business and management course for artisans during basic design. Somaiya also organizes courses on craft traditions for visitors and visits to open workshops to meet Kutch craftsmen in their villages.

“We encourage design innovation with respect for tradition and teach what a design school would teach. Things like how to design for a market, taking them to high-end stores in Ahmedabad and local markets to show contrast, how to vary your design, how to take an abstract idea and apply it, and trends,” said Frater said.

But her passion for India and textiles started long before UW. The Pennsylvania native first saw India in 1970 as a freshman and fell in love with its craft. While graduating from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, she embarked on a study abroad program in Pune, a city about 75 miles south of Mumbai, learning the traditional craft design. Struck by a film about Gujarat handicrafts, she persuaded a few comrades to travel to Kutch with her, fearless when the guidebook’s maps showed no roads.

“Do what you want,” said my mother. No one had ever told me that before, including her,” Frater laughs. “The program was no more expensive than studying at Lawrence. I have loved textiles since I was a child, I learned batik and fabric printing from books in the library. She planned to study art. “I tried to convince the art department that textiles were an authentic art form, but they didn’t buy it,” she said. So she ended up with a double major in anthropology and education, a self-designed program. “It was a wonderfully open time in education, when they started experimenting with students designing their own courses.” It was perfect for Frater. “I’ve always been very motivated.” At some point, she decided sleeping was a waste of time, so she took 15-minute naps for several weeks. Her adviser asked her in astonishment if she had really read all the books she listed.

She chose UW for her second graduate degree because it was the only museology program in an anthropology department she could find; the rest were in art history departments. Frater remembers it as a “really rigorous” program, and Dr. Simon Ottenberg, a German-born anthropologist and expert on West Africa, was his adviser. Her first graduate degree was in South Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota, where she wrote an anthropology thesis on the strain of maintaining and adapting culture among nomads. “My first master’s degree was theory,” Frater said, “[and] my second was the app.

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