Fujairah Collage

Fujairah Collage
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reviving the Traditional Art of Paper Camel Making in Fujairah

From LA to UAE

Darcy Harris first left her Los Angeles home in 1986 to travel to Japan where she heard they were desperately looking for English conversation teachers. She never suspected that she would meet her husband and travel the world for the next 25 years. Darcy and Paul have lived in such exotic places as Finland, the UK and Saudi Arabia.

Now based in Fujairah, Darcy is currently the Student Success Coordinator (SSC) for the HCT Men’s College.

Darcy’s first love is theatre and she is hoping to bring her love of theatre to Fujairah in December 2011 by directing an English pantomime. She’s plans to feature some of her paper sculptures in the production.

Paper Sculpting

Darcy has been the director and curator of an art gallery, but it may have been her production of live theatre and the need to create props that got her into the art of paper sculpting.

As a teacher, Darcy noticed the tremendous stack of paper that would mount up below the College photocopy machine and she wondered how the waste might be put to good use.

Paper Camels

Darcy has lived in the Gulf for sixteen years and the UAE for eleven years. She began to notice five to six years ago in the shops and souqs that the ubiquitous leather camels were fast disappearing.

When she started to make her first paper camels many Emirati young people said to Darcy, “That’s what my grandmother made!”

An old Emirati, seeing one of Darcy’s camels, reflected, “I had these when I was a child.”

Darcy lamented the disappearance of this traditional art form and said, “I wanted to bring back something I thought Emiratis and people of the Gulf were losing.”

She decided not to make leather camels but to apply lacquer to the paper and add decorations that might appeal to the youthful generations.

Last year was the first year that Darcy began to sell the camels which was a decision to get them into circulation, contribute to the growing craft culture in the UAE and as a way of recovering some of her costs.

Learning the Craft

To learn the camel making craft, Darcy bought up camels in shops and markets, especially those that were broken. She would take them apart, discover what materials were used and learn how they were constructed. Many of the old camels were stuffed with odds and ends that the maker could find in the house.

Darcy has made hippos and horses but she prefers to concentrate on making camels.

Building a Camel

Darcy makes the ‘building’ of a camel look easy. You take a ball of newspaper, fashion it into a shape, apply water or glue and keep adding strips of paper to make a knee or a hump.

It’s a slow process as the wet paper needs to dry before more paper is added. Darcy uses glue paste after which she sands the dry paper smooth. Gypsum and acrylic paints are applied along with decorative extras before the camel is fully presentable. Darcy offers this observation on camel construction:

“The longer the camels stand for drying the better they will look in the end.”

The smaller ones take two weeks to dry but the larger ones can take up to six weeks so Darcy has lots of camels on the go at any one time, and she will make scores of legs or tails in one burst.

Decorating the Camel

After the camels are dried, they are smoothed and painted before being decorated. Darcy buys up stickers at the markets and One Dirham shops. Her customers will ask for specific designs—camels draped in the Union Jack, camels decorated with Dutch tulips and the ever popular camels with the UAE colours.

While Darcy makes camels in different stances—standing, kneeling or even balancing on a surfboard—it’s the detailed decorations that give each camel their distinctive personality. “Every camel is a canvas,” declares Darcy. “Every camel is sacred.”

Some buyers request that their multi-coloured camel be decked out with flashy beads or with elaborate palm tree ornamentation. As she says, “The world is full of different tastes and some colours appeal much more than others.”

After colouring, decorating and adding the bling the camels receive a lacquer to protect their surface and make them shiny. Water and sunlight will damage these paper creations so the camels are not to be kept outside or in the window light.

Camels for Sale

Darcy has a demanding fulltime job so camel making at the end of the day is a pleasurable hobby. She sets the prices at minimal levels simply to cover her costs.

Here are the current prices for the paper camels:

AED 25 Small

AED 50 Medium

AED 75 Large

AED 150 Extra Large

AED 275 Extra Extra Large

Art and Craft Markets

There’s a growing number of souqs in the UAE which bring together people who make handmade crafts.

These are some souqs where Darcy sells her camels:

Art and Craft Soukh—Times Square Center, Dubai (2nd Friday of the month from 12pm-7pm). Website: www.arte.ae

Art and Craft market—Festival Centre at Dubai Festival City (1st Friday of the month from 12pm to 9pm). Website: www.arte.ae

Art and Craft Soukh—Al Hamra Mall, Ras Al Khaimah (three Fridays a year from 2pm to 9pm). Website: www.arte.ae


For information and inquiries Darcy Harris may be contacted at this email address:


Geoff Pound

This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus—Facebook Page.

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