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Update on Teahouse Restoration

Maruf Mirahmatov, is a master artisan from Khujand, Tajikistan. He is a fifth-generation artisan who works with traditional design motifs and their applications. His grandfather Mirpulat was one of the artisans in Tajikistan who helped design and execute the construction of our wonderful Teahouse (Chaikhana). Twenty years ago, Mirpulat and his teammate Abdul Manon helped with the final assembly of the Teahouse in Boulder. Maruf’s father, Haydar, visited us five years ago to work on the restoration of the exterior painted decorations, interior gaunch, as well as two little tables and eight stools. He was not able to complete the very fine and detailed work in his time here. Maruf, his 30-year-old son, father of two little girls, arrived here in August to work on completing the job. He is here as a visiting scholar sponsored by CU ‘s CEdaR program and the School of Environmental Design in collaboration with the City of Boulder. It is an extremely complicated arrangement (BDSC, the Teahouse, City, Maruf, and CU are all players).

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He spent two days a week this Fall co-teaching a class on Central Asian design motifs and applications with CU architecture professor Shawhin Roudbari also a Farsi speaker. His 16 students eventually spent some time helping on the restoration. They each, also, produced a panel copying one of the design sections of the Teahouse. They are great. We want to thank them and Shawhin for their interest, study, and help! It was fabulous. And, we want to thank Lenny at the Teahouse and his staff for hosting many of the morning classes and Maruf’s lunches and snacks. We would also like to thank Nate Jones at CU’s ENVD and Brian Mueller at Cedar for envisioning the project and doing the massive paperwork for Maruf’s visa application.

Aside from the twice-weekly morning class, Maruf has been spending astonishingly long hours working on the restoration of the frieze on the north side of the Teahouse and some of the stools. The working conditions are a real challenge. Winter conditions have come early. His acrylic paints cannot be applied when temperatures are below 40 degrees F. The black oil paint can be. Perhaps you saw the wild plastic covering over his scaffolding sitting 20 feet high along the north Teahouse wall? He had some heaters there that allowed him to paint in the extreme cold. 

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The work is extremely detailed and elaborate. There are a specific order and way of applying it all. Each colorful design with its intricate intertwining swirls is carefully outlined with a very fine black line less than 1/16 inch wide. All this is done freehand following a light outline that had been applied from saved patterns traced on to the wall surface. It is amazing. The work requires a very steady hand and great concentration. It is a type of meditation being up there for hours sitting carefully painting with a steady hand stroke after steady stroke, fine lines flowing hour after hour. When Maruf first arrived he used to have a cup of coffee in the morning but after starting the black lines he stopped because he felt it made him shake. Besides help from some of his students, he has had some community volunteers, some Teahouse workers, and others who have come by to climb his ladder or old scaffolding to help with hours here and there. Mary Hey, one of the original folks initiating the Sister City relationship has been a steady volunteer, but no black lines.

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Maruf is one of only a hand full of artisans in Tajikistan who knows how to and can do this demanding and beautiful work. (He is also a computer geek and has been using CNC machines and other modern technologies at home to carry on this work). We seriously underestimated the amount of time the restoration would take. It is just so detailed and slow to do. It cannot be rushed. Maruf is determined to finish. It is a work of love honoring his father, grandfather, and the other original artisans. He is one of the hardest workers we have ever met. He usually is leaving his host Peter and Sophia Stoller’s house before 7 am in the morning, riding his city loaned electric bike down the canyon to the Teahouse. He often does not return until 10:30 pm or 11 pm at night. He works 6 days a week and it is a struggle to drag him away on Sundays when he sometimes also works (He has lunch and snacks etc. at the Teahouse). He has taken some breaks, thank goodness.

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He came with the Stollers to visit their family in San Francisco over Thanksgiving break and got to enjoy the amazing sights of San Francisco, the ocean, and the giant redwoods. He has also gone skiing twice at Eldora compliments of Rett and Tania Ertl, where he had a great time as a first-time skier under the tutelage of the Ertls. He takes little breaks here and there. He especially loves music and has attended a number of the School of Music's programs along with other events in the area. After finishing the exterior frieze, there are still the stools and one table to finish, another fine, delicate job but this time inside. He said to paint one stool takes two weeks! I think those of us rushing around in our American fast-paced world find it hard to even comprehend the patience and skill required to do such a job.

Maruf leaves Boulder on February 10 to visit his uncle and aunt in Dallas and then fly home to Khujand, Tajikistan on February 20, where, he can finally see his children, wife, and other family members. We will miss him. If you can, swing by the Teahouse and take a minute to look at the north frieze. To see it well, you will need binoculars. It is amazing. Shortly, at least one of the beautiful low tables and four stools will be back in their home at the Teahouse. Perhaps there will be time for another to follow. Take a minute to carefully look at these gems! We have been fortunate to have had this talented young man working here restoring the Teahouse. He is maintaining the great tradition of Tajik artisans. Thank you Maruf!

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