Nepali, Buddhist art finds home on York Street

Nepali artist Chuntui Lama opened his new gallery two weeks ago, providing York Street shoppers with a ready supply of Buddhist art and Himalayan handicrafts.

Lama said his Himalayan art store, which replaced a hair salon between Zaroka Bar and Restaurant and Hunan Cafe, will expose New Haven residents to a type of art they may never have seen before.

“I finally decided that I have to show my family’s art to the people,” he said.

Lama, a third-generation artist, hand-paints and embroiders his own Thangka — a type of Tibetan banner hung in Buddhist monasteries. One of the primary selling points is the works’ authenticity, he said.

“It is 100 percent Buddhist art,” Lama said.

Becky Sweet GRD ’10 said she happened upon the store during a morning commute down York Street to the Medical School.

“What really struck me was that the owner was so passionate about his artwork,” she said. “You could tell he cared a lot about making the work very good.”

In creating his art, Lama said he begins with a handmade canvas that he paints with pigments from Nepal and Tibet. The paintings illustrate different Buddhas, mandalas and other Buddhist symbols.

The store also sells incense, Tibetan and Nepali music, prayer flags and jewelry.

“Business since we’ve opened looks fine,” Lama said. “People are coming in and are very interested in the work.”

But Lama, whose store opened Oct. 14, said he would have preferred to own a store on Chapel Street where greater pedestrian traffic would have attracted more customers, but the Chapel rents were beyond his price range.

The store owner was born in a small village in the eastern part of Nepal and moved to the city of Pokhara in 1983 to open his own gallery. In 1998, he left Nepal to study English in the United States. Now that he has a business and a source of income, his wife and three daughters, who are currently in Nepal, plan to join him in New Haven soon, he said.

“I want to give my daughters a good education,” Lama said.

Lama said he is largely self-educated, since his village’s school was too far away from his home to attend. He said he has learned most of his English from watching television and is now trying to learn Spanish.

Sweet said she was impressed by the detail of the paintings and Lama’s description of the significance behind the Buddhist images.

“Even though I’m a graduate student and I shouldn’t be buying any art, he took so much time to explain everything to me, I bought a piece,” Sweet said.

Debu Thapa, who works at Zaroka, said he hopes customers at the Himalayan art store bolster his own store’s business.

Thapa, who is also Nepali, said he is pleased to have a next-door neighbor who shares his ethnic heritage, even though the two stores are unrelated.

“It feels like a family business,” he said.

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