Category Archives: Uncategorized

Festivals and Ritual Life

Though a specialist in Himalayan architecture, Ron and Dianne often captured seasonal or special events, such as rituals, festivals, or other public displays. These photos provide useful comparative evidence that enables research on the history and development of particular rituals, and occasionally document events that are once-in-a-lifetime, such as the Fourth King of Bhutan’s 1974 coronation, or local festivals as they occurred in the late 1960s.

Many of Ron’s images also capture the ways in which images and objects are approached and engaged in the ritual process, generally in highly sensory ways. For students in the classroom or for others who are more familiar with material culture as displayed in a museum context–without the requisite powders, flowers, and adornments–viewing works as they are approached by practitioners and devotees, such as in this image below, facilitate greater understanding–and appreciation–of the cultures that create them.

Ganesh Shrine, Surya Binayak Temple, photo taken 1978.

Ganesh Shrine, Surya Binayak Temple, photo taken 1978. The offering of flowers, food, drink, incense, and colored pastes are all part of the propitiation process.


Indra Jatra, 1969.

Indra Jatra, 1969. Dedicated to the Vedic god Indra, the Indra Jatra is an annual festival that functions in religious and political terms to consolidate authority. For more information, follow this link to the article  “The Indra Jatra of Kathmandu as a Royal Festival: Past and Present” by Gerard Toffin


Bisket Jatra, Kumbeshwar, December 1969

Bisket Jatra, Kumbeshwar, December 1969

Bisket Jatra is a nine-day long New Year celebration that takes place every springtime. Dr. Bernier included discussion of this festival in a 1984 article he published in the journal Himalaya entitled “Survival of Wooden Art in Nepal: Three Masterworks”, available for free download here.


Monks at coronation of Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Tashichho Dzong, 2 June 1974.

Monks at coronation of the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Tashichho Dzong, 2 June 1974.

The Fourth King of Bhutan is widely credited with revolutionizing Bhutan’s polity and policies, including development of the oft-cited ‘Gross National Happiness’ development principle and the institution of democracy in the kingdom with his willing abdication of the throne in 2008. More information about the Fourth King’s contributions can be read in this Journal of Bhutan Studies article, “Bhutan: Political Reform in a Buddhist Monarchy” by Thierry Mathou.


Reconstructing Lost History


Ron’s travels in Asia began when he set foot in Nepal in 1966. Having previously studied African arts and culture, he brought with him the resilience and intrepidness necessary for long term stays in the Himalayas. Also to his credit, he brought Dianne, who not only was an equally adventurous travel partner, but an invaluable research assistant. Together, Ron and Dianne traveled extensively through South, East, Central, and Southeast Asia for the next four decades. They visited many sites more than once, thereby providing documentation of its changes over time. As well, they visited places and saw things that no longer exist.


Taktsang Gonpa, Tiger’s Den Monastery, Paro, Bhutan, 1979. This form of Taktsang was completely destroyed by fire in 1998 and has since been rebuilt.

 Today’s post is going to focus on a few of those sites, objects, and ephemera that Ron and Dianne captured in the field but that don’t survive into the present. Ron’s images of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, fall into this category, yet those slides await future digitization.

As a specialist in Bhutanese art and iconography, I was surprised and thrilled to find images from around Bhutan dating to as early as his first visit to the kingdom in 1979.  Though according to World Bank figures Bhutan is now hosting over 100,000 tourist guests a year, it is certainly safe to say that very, very few visitors made their way into the ‘Land of the Dragon’ in the late 70s. Among the slides is this gem, a photograph of one of Taktsang’s now-lost murals that was destroyed by fire approximately twenty years after Ron’s visit:

Guru at Taktsang

A wall mural of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) from Taktsang Gonpa. Photo taken 1979.

Its subject is Guru Rinpoche, the ubiquitous 8th century Indian master credited with establishing Buddhism in the Himalayas, here surrounded by masters, his Copper Mountain Pure Land, and two of his eight primary manifestations.  Though Taktsang has since been rebuilt and hosts thousands of pilgrims and visitors annually, this image conveys a Taktsang that few were able to experience. As an art historian, I’m enthralled with how the artist masterfully executed the folds, flutters and designs of Guru’s robes, and the successive layers of gold-encircled curvilinear gems, flowers in various states of bloom, and the scrolled cloud motifs that seem to foam out into space. Hopefully, future research will be able to determine whether this mural dated to the temple’s 17th century expansion under Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye (more on Tenzin Rabgye’s role at Taktsang in an article by esteemed scholar of Bhutan Dr. John Ardussi here, and a brief English language biography here), or perhaps a later renovation.

Other images reveal aspects of Himalayan culture that are in decline, such as this image of silversmiths working in Shigatse in 1984:


Or this monk-sculptor working on a Buddha’s ear in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989:

Creating in JK

When we speak of change, it doesn’t necessarily involve a material object or place. Sometimes it refers to a past that no longer exists due to any one of a variety of factors: globalization, technological advancement, occupation, oppression, or perhaps the desire to offer something new in place of something old. Sometimes it’s a historical moment, something that will never repeat. Maybe it’s a ritual or festival. Or maybe a moment in a person’s life, or a fleeting expression. Here are a few examples of what Ron was able to capture during his travels:


Members of the Tibetan refugee community learn to spin wool at Jawalakhel Handicraft Centre, est. 1960. Photo taken 1970.



Woman in traditional dress, Sho Dun Festival, Norbulingkha, 1988



Travelers and an animal-skin coracle (koba) alongside the Kyichu River, 1985.

Presenting the Bernier Archive

This Wednesday at Boulder’s Tsadra Foundation, we’ll be giving our first invited talk about the Ronald M. and Dianne J. Bernier Archive.

Though our blog has been quiet, we’ve all been quite busy preparing the first 1,000 images for release on the public database.  This is–and will be for some time–a work in progress. With only 1/25th of the Bernier materials digitized and no funding available at present to dedicate to the project, the VRC has been drawing on two seed grants (from VRAF and ArtStor) that funded scanning, specialist content, and archival materials, some student and administrative labor, and volunteer efforts.

Dianne and Ron at the Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Dianne and Ron at the Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan

Though dedicated financing certainly is our biggest challenge at present, we look forward to drawing upon crowdsourcing and social media technology to get the word out about the Bernier Archive. Once the database represents the full integration of our images and spreadsheets, with the blessing of Ron’s estate, we will turn to those who knew Ron, took his courses, traveled with him, or have spent time in the regions themselves to add user-generated content to make the Bernier Archive more accessible, searchable, and useful.

We want to acknowledge openly that none of what we’ve done to date could have come about without Dianne Bernier. Her generosity in sharing these documents from her life (and adventures) with Ron will provide scholars, researchers, and aficionados of Asian cultures an abundance of material dating back to 1966. “Thank you” cannot begin to cover our gratitude, and “thrilled” cannot begin to express our excitement about the Bernier Archive.

For the coming months, we’ll be highlighting some of our favorite findings thus far. We’re looking forward to your feedback, and we thank you for your interest.

Summer Projects Update

Summer is all about image editing, clean up, adding descriptive metadata, geo-tagging and planning what is next for the Bernier Archive. Dr. Maki, back from a recent scholarly trip to Bhutan, finished adding substantial descriptive metadata for the second round of digitization of images, thanks to the support of the Artstor At-Risk Collection grant funding. We have another graduate student from the department of Art History helping with image clean up, Jamie Summers. Jamie has an extensive background in digital photography and image handling.

The Artstor At-Risk Collection focuses primarily on Southeast Asia and will be made available in Artstor’s Shared Shelf platform. We have permission to make the 500 images of the VRA Foundation grant pilot project available through shared shelf. In the near future, just over 1,000 images from the Bernier Archive will be available for discovery and research in Artstor Shared Shelf.

Future endeavors we are mulling over this summer include GIS and mapping projects combining material culture with places of origin, such as the linking of text and associated monasteries as seen on the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC,!places/O4JW338404JW339875JW52). The Bernier Archive is investigating the feasibility of working with TBRC and other literature-based resources to better integrate image and text resources to facilitate greater interchange. Cross-linking such as this and the examples mentioned earlier will greatly enhance ease of research, ideally benefitting Himalayan and Asian Studies as a whole.

© Dianne J. Bernier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license,

© Dianne J. Bernier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license,

It has been a very productive and inspiring summer for the Bernier Archive project. Please see the newly published images in our Southeast Asia gallery for a sampling of the recent digitization of images.

Nepal Earthquakes and The Bernier Archive images

The representation of Nepal in the Bernier Collection is extensive, over 2,800 images. Nepal was part of the main areas of of study for Dr. Bernier, considered one of the leading scholars on the architecture of Nepal and the Himalayas, his works are still referenced by scholars today. Dr. Bernier visited Nepal many times over the course of decades. He documented specific sites over time. The images he took are invaluable to scholarly research, and in the wake of the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015 and subsequent major aftershocks, these images can aid in the restoration of temples and sites that have been completely destroyed or damaged.

This collection, once fully digitized, cataloged and published, will be made available to the public under a Creative Commons License 4.0 ( This means scholars and researches will have free access to the images.

In honor of the scholarship of Dr. Bernier and in tribute to Nepal, images that are significant to the restoration and documentation processes and images from the Kathmandu area are now available in our Nepal Gallery on the sidebar to this site.

Dr. Bernier: Biography and Scholarship

CU Boulder Alumni Association In Memory of Dr. Bernier


Art professor emeritus Ronald M. Bernier died on Jan. 25, 2012 as a result of complications arising from multiple sclerosis. He leaves behind hundreds of former students who spent their CU education trying to get into any and all of Ron’s art history classes.

He was born on June 19, 1943 in St Paul, MN to Olivette and Milton Bernier. Ron held an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, obtained his master’s from the University of Hawaii/East-West Center, and received his Ph.D. from Cornell University. His love of art was established at a young age. He told a Coloradan writer in 2005 that he remained grateful to his second-grade teacher who brought to class a brochure of the Maori people of New Zealand.

He went on to share his enthusiasm and passion with generations of students while touring the most remote regions of the world, including Nepal. He wrote the first book ever published on Nepalese temples. His love for places, people and their art was propelled by the fact that much of it was quickly disappearing amid modernization.

In the early 70′s Ron was awarded the Teaching Recognition Award from CU-Boulder. After 35 years with CU, Dr. Bernier was awarded the title of Exploratory Emeritus of Art History, a one-of-a-kind title for a unique and truly talented visionary. He leaves behind his friend and partner of 45 years, Dianne Bernier, as well as many friends in the Boulder area who will miss his wit and humor.

(The above article is an excerpt from the CU Boulder Alumni Association Bulletin. It can be found at

Library of Congress Catalog entries for Ronal M. Bernier can be found at

The Collection

This is what 30,000 slides looks like organized by content and geographical region

IMG_1376 IMG_1375

My project in the 2014 Fall semester was to organize the slides by content and geographic area. A task that we all thought could be cranked out in a month or so…three months and over 150 hours later it was done.

The main regions and subcategories, basically one box or two, include: (bold text denotes the box title)

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India (part one of India)

India (pt. 1 subcategories)

  • Small sleeve sets of distinct areas
  • Tamil Nadu: Mahabalipuram
  • Tamil Nadu: Tanjore and Subramanga (Subramanya)
  • Tamil Nadu: Madras and Kanchipuram
  • Fatepur Sikri
  • Calicut District in Kerala
  • Benares (Varanasi)
  • Colchin
  • Mysore & Bangalore
  • Khajuraho temple complex
  • Amber (Amer)
  • Ellora Caves
  • Elephanta Caves
  • Jodhpur
  • Rajasthan
  • Delhi (New Delhi)
  • Calcutta
  • Bombay (Mumbai)
  • Kerala
  • Agra (Taj Mahal)
  • Darjeerling
  • Goa

Central Asia, Middle East and India (part 2)

Central Asia subcategories:

  • Uzbekistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Turkey
  • Pakistan
    • Misc. sleeves and museums
    • Lahore
    • Karachi
    • Gulmit
    • Taxila
    • Makli Hill necropolis
    • Hunza

Middle East subcategories

  • Yemen
  • Jordan (Petra)
  • Lebanon
  • Iran

India (pt. 2) subcategory

  • Himachal Pradesh (Dr. Bernier worked extensively and published in this area)

Southeast Asia (Box1)

  • Mixed sleeves
  • Borneo
  • Malaysia
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • Borobudur temple complex (central Java)
  • Indonesia
  • Sulawesi
  • Java (overall)
  • Bali

Southeast Asia (Box 2)

  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Cambodia
  • Thailand



  • Egypt
  • North-central Kenya: Samburu people
  • East Africa: people and architecture
  • Misc. architecture
  • Mixed sleeves of slides
  • Massai people


  • Korea
  • Japan
  • China

Tibet, Buthan, Sikkim, Jammu Kashmir (overall), Ladakh (specific sets of Jammu Kashmir) and Burma

One box of mystery areas requiring more research (we will possibly crowd source these images)

About half a box of mixed sleeves that the slides need to be individually sorted