Printmaking in Pakistan - Heath’s Photolithography Department

By Suljuk Mustansar Tarar

Printmaking in Pakistan - Heath’s Photolithography Department
The Department of Photolithography was established at the Mayo School of Arts (MSA) Lahore in 1915 by Lionel Heath.

Heath was Principal of MSA, now National College of Arts, from 1913-1929 and he created the department“with the object of meeting a future demand which” he“felt was sure to come, for improved advertising facilities in black and white color.” Mostly, the British Raj advertising and propaganda posters were designed and printed at MSA.

Interestingly Abdur Rehman Chughtai, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished artists, studied Photolithography at MSA for two years around 1912 and taught till 1916. A misunderstanding with Lionel Heath on a medical leave availed by Chughtai to work at home to prepare for a British Empire exhibition led him to leave MSA. Reportedly Chughtai never returned to MSA after that. He had later learned etching from Europe in the 1930s and transferred many of his paintings into finely done etchings.

From the study of NCA Archives, Heath appears to be a very innovative and proactive head of MSA. He was a miniature painter of the British tradition and a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. He became Vice Principal of MSA in 1911. As Principal he initiated proposals for establishing the Photolithography Department and a Fine Art Department to replace the defunct Drawing Teachers Training Department. To him, his Photolithography department“attempt has proved a partial success” as he had “no difficulty in recruiting students.” By 1922 fifty-three students had studied at the department and out of them 27 qualified the final exams but Heath complained that he could not impart full or advance training because of certain limitations. This primarily included “lack of qualification in the teachers,” followed by insufficient quantities of material available in the market because of then ongoing World War I, and that “equipment and accommodation has proved insufficient to do really work” at the School.
From the study of NCA Archives, Heath appears to be a very innovative and proactive head of MSA. He was a miniature painter of the British tradition and a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters

Realizing the importance of such matters and with that moderate success, Heath prepared a “Development Scheme” in May 1922 for a proper “Photo Litho department.” He proposed to have Photography; Process work and Lithography as the “three divisions” in the department. The list of required equipment included Routing, Bevelling and Litho Printing machines - the first two costed Indian Rs 3,600 each and the Litho was for Rs 5,000.

'Inaam Baqaidah Haziree'

In terms of requirements, Photography was a one year course open to five student every year.  Process Work was an additional two years also, building on a year’s training in photography with ten students to be admitted every year. Lithography was a course for three years with ten students admitted every year and open to students who had completed the “elementary department” of MSA or with similar background. Stipends were also offered to students in the Department.

The Industries Department of Punjab responding to the initial proposal asked Heath to submit a background note. Heath prepared another backgrounder in September 1922 which argued that photo production and color lithography were subjects that were “in the modern life of a people advancing in commercial and artistic ideas essential to the advancement”, “important function of a school of Arts”, and “the way to developments that must come in the country if it is to be in a position to put before its own people and those of other countries it’s commercial activities, it’s technical advances, it’s educational facilities, in a graphic and artistic form of advertisement.”

Lionel Heath in his office, 1923

Heath was convinced that a qualified instructor of advance lithography was not available at the local level and he emphasized that it could only be an European. Hence the estimated expenditure also accounted for emoluments of an European faculty member. He noted “the efforts of Mayo School of Arts have been frustrated in its past attempt to develop these arts only because it has had to work with unqualified instructors. There is no doubt that it has the artistic knowledge but it has not had the expert technical knowledge and this cannot be obtained in this country. If the argument in favour of this scheme […] are accepted then it is in my opinion essential to import an expert Lithographer.”

Although Heath had prepared the estimated requirements of space and equipment, in his correspondence he mentioned that these details could only be decided once the College recruited an expert imported Lithographer.
Heath was convinced that a qualified instructor of advanced lithography was not available at the local level and he emphasized that it could only be
an European

Meanwhile a local Roshan Lal Shori who had been in charge of “Mapping and lithographic Departments at the Staff College, Quetta” and had studied in the US and England both lithography and “Photo Mechanical processes,” heard about the developments at MSA and expressed his interest in joining in 1922-23. There was no formal vacancy available or approved at that time and his application was kept till an opportunity arrived. Shori later went on to be a major filmmaker, financier and distributor.

Though Heath’s proposal received administrative approval in November 1922, his estimated expenditure was slashed to almost half of what he had asked for procuring equipment and machinery. Another NCA Archives file on the establishment of Fine Arts Department shows that a separate Photolithography department was still not there in 1927. However, the coursework in lithography remained part of Commercial Painting as was mentioned in MSA’s prospectus of 1957. Later, etching and lithography were moved under the Department of Art’s Graphics concentration in 1960’s when NCA moved to offer a four-year National Diploma in Arts.

Note: The author wants to thank the NCA Archives for providing access to the record for this article