A Tibetan Master Weaver in America

The following article is from the Spring, 1997 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

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Gala Khamba demonstrating his art.

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An array of Zagyel rugs.

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Zagyel Studio in Woodstock, NY.

by David McCarthy

Getting to know master weaver Gala Khamba is a glimpse into the culture of Tibet and the challenges of its recent history.

Now living and working near Woodstock, New York, Gala was born at the base of sacred Mt. Kailash as his family was making a three-year journey on foot from Eastern Tibet to Nepal, escaping the Chinese invasion. Growing up in refugee camps in Nepal, he was apprenticed to a respected weaver named Tsering Topgyal and learned all aspects of the traditional Tibetan art of carpet production. Gala's training included preparation and dyeing of wool, traditional knotting techniques, building looms, pattern design and, later, supervising and training other weavers. Possessing this knowledge makes him a very rare person, someone who can uphold the tradition of Tibet's endangered culture. Yet like all refugees, he faces the challenges of moving into an entirely different culture, one in which his knowledge and skills may not be considered valuable or relevant at all.

One way Gala made the difficult transition of life in exile was by working for a dealer of fine antique oriental rugs for five years. There he did extensive restoration work, and learned a great deal about rugs from all parts of the world, especially the traditional rug-producing areas of the Middle East.

Gala is now married to artist Elizabeth Kelly, and together they operate their carpet business, Zagyel Studio. (Zagyel is the name of a famous mountain in Gala's home region of Eastern Tibet.) Zagyel Studio does repair and cleaning work on all types of fine handmade rugs.

The studio also has one of the finest collections anywhere of antique Tibetan rugs. Elizabeth says she is encouraged that there are some Americans who are able to see the antique rugs not as merchandise, but as rare examples of an endangered art form. Working with the antique Tibetan rugs, Gala's tremendous knowledge of the tradition comes into play. His ability to evaluate authenticity, condition, and value is based not only on long experience as a dealer. He knows the tradition as a craftsman 'someone who works at the creative level with raw materials, design elements and symbolism.

Seeing the vivid but subtle colors and designs of this rug collection, along with the ordered chaos of the repair room, is a glimpse into a culture now mostly gone. But it is a glimpse that also gives a sense of continuity and potential for the Tibetan weaving tradition. At Zagyel Studio in the Catskills, and despite all odds, the tradition is alive and well.

Contact: Zagyel Studio, Gala Geru Khamba, 283 Grog Kill Road, Willow, NY 12495, 914-688-5602, fax # 914-688-7616. ä_æ

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