Tag Archives: nepal

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.


Dr. Ariana Maki

s200_ariana.makiAriana Maki’s Ph.D. is in Buddhist art history, with additional concentrations in the fields of Himalayan art, and Islamic art and architecture. She has been undertaking research in Asia since 2000, and lived in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan for three years (2009-2012).  Ariana has traveled extensively in Nepal, Tibet, and India, which, along with Bhutan, are countries well-represented in the Bernier archive. In addition, Ariana has spent substantive time in Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), China, Japan, and Morocco. This overseas experience, coupled with her scholarly background, provide her the tools to contribute effectively to the Bernier project.

Funding Sources: Artstor At-Risk Collections grant

Generous support has been provided through the Artstor At-Risk collection grant.  It was awarded to digitize and publish Buddhist initiation rituals in Nepal in the 1970’s and 80’s and key historical sites from Myanmar.

This scholarship and image archive will be made possible and available for scholars, enthusiasts and students through Artstor digital library and Artstor is also providing use of its Shared Shelf digital media management software to support the cataloging of these collections.

Dianne and Ronald M. Bernier Archive: Introduction

The Visual Resources Center (VRC) in the department of Art and Art History was gifted over 30,000 slides documenting of 40 years of research and scholarship of the late Dr. Ronald M. Bernier, former CU Professor. This collection comprises images of the arts and architecture, along with geography, peoples and places of the Himalaya region, India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, Oceania and Africa. Dr. Bernier’s primary focus of research and documentation represents the Himalaya region, India and Southeast Asia.

Some of the earliest images, dated to the mid-1960’s, document a time at which the remote Himalayan locations received very few outside (western) visitors. Dr. Bernier cultivated meaningful relationships with the monastic and lay communities and was granted permission to many temples and monasteries. His study and documentation of such places proves invaluable to scholarship in this era of acute awareness of illegal theft and sale, religious based destruction, natural erosion and unsustainable tourism of places, arts and artifacts around the world. In short, the archive is a comprehensive documentation of at risk places, arts and artifacts.

My name is Krystle Kelley, I am a Graduate Assistant (Art History M.A. candidate) in the VRC at CU Boulder. I received by B.A. from CU Boulder and took any and all of Dr. Bernier’s classes that I could enroll into. I am currently working on researching and cataloging the digital archive of the Bernier Archive. My supervisor, Elaine Paul, Director of the VRC and Lia Pileggi, Digital Imaging and Technology Coordinator, supervise the process. Dr. Ariana Maki, specialist in Buddhist art and iconography, with minor concentrations in Himalayan art and Islamic art and architecture, is the lead scholar for the project.

The intent of this blog is to provide an informative framework for anyone in the field of digital archives and cataloging that may be facing the same task, to expound on the scholarship surrounding at risk collections and non-Western arts and provide a window into the project for all interested scholars, students, amateur art enthusiasts and friends of digital archives.

Please feel free to comment on any post or reach out to me with any questions or information you would like to contribute. We expect this to be an open and collaborative blog.

We hope you enjoy the content and find it useful.