Henna artist to color festival

Published 1:05 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - From India to Indiana.
That's the path Jayshree Patel took six months ago when she moved from Bombay to South Bend. With the move, she joined her husband Rajen, who works at Tyler Refrigeration in Niles. The move forced Patel to leave behind some family and friends, but she was able to bring along her gift of henna art.
Recently, Patel has been offering her services on Saturdays at Moonbeads and Earthware in the Belle Plaza on South 11th Street in Niles Township. On June 23 and 24, Jayshree will share her talents at the Downtown In Motion: A Celebration of the Arts festival in Niles.
Henna, or mehendi as it is known in India, is the Arabic word for plant. The henna shrub is believed to be native to Egypt and brought to other areas like South Africa by merchants.
Patel said she starts with a powder form of dried henna leaves, which can be found in most Indian stores. She then adds water and tea to create a dark brown paste. As a final touch, Patel said she includes a few drops of eucalyptus leaf to darken the color.
To apply the paste to the skin, Patel uses a smaller version of a pastry cone. She holds the cone like a pencil, drawing on skin where a sketch artist would use paper. The paste feels a bit cool as it lands on the skin and thanks to the eucalyptus leaf, smells fresh. Patel works quickly and smoothly. She doesn't pause to evaluate what she has applied, or what her next move may be.
Once the paste has been applied, it must dry for at least 10 to 15 minutes. As it hardens, the dark brown substance constricts and leaves a rust colored pattern on the skin. A day or two later, the orange turns to a soft brown and, depending on how often the area is washed, can remain for more than two weeks.
Patel said the practice of temporarily tattooing a person's skin is not associated with any single culture of religion. What henna has been traditionally tied to in India is weddings.
Patel said it is common for the bride to have a henna party two days before the wedding. During the pre-marital celebration, a henna artist temporarily tattoos the feet and lower legs, as well as the hands and forearms of the bride with intricate designs, shapes and letters. Part of the ritual also includes hiding the groom's initials within the artwork, which Patel said usually contains floral, peacock and fish-like patterns.
At a recent henna party she was hired to do in Orlando, Fla., Patel said she was henna tattooing for nine-and-a-half straight hours.
For the bride to be, how the henna turns out also tells a tale. Patel said the darker the tattoo is, the more love the husband has for his wife.
Though the types of patterns may appear similar, Patel said she is yet to use the same shapes more than once.
Being a henna artist was how Patel said she made her living back in India. Through a friend who worked in an advertising agency, Patel said she was able to do work on some major film stars and pop singers.
Back in Michiana, Patel said the henna she did for her friend Brenda Cangelosi landed her at Moonbeads and Earthware. Cangelosi made a trip to the store to show the henna to the owners, who then asked Patel to do some henna on the weekends.
Word of Patel's talents then spread to the co-chair of the Celebration of the Arts, Meg Truesdell, who was given a first-hand look at the artwork.
Truesdell said Patel was juried and has been accepted to do henna during the weekend celebration on June 23 and 24. Henna, Patel said, is not limited to weddings.
A sign of good luck, in any country.