HENNEPIN — A several thousand year old art form recently came to the Hennepin Library for the first time, and it left its mark on more than a dozen Putnam County residents. Used by a variety of cultures, but most recognizable as part of Indian celebrations, Henna is the art form of applying elaborate and often floral designs to the skin using a paste derived from the Henna plant.
Kristi Gehrt, artistic director and professional body artist for Wild Style Design Co., visited the library on Oct. 26. She’s been doing commercial make-up and body painting for 12 years and applying Henna designs for six. She said she’s done several Indian weddings, where she’s spent up to three days applying designs to entire wedding parties.
Henna paste is made from all natural ingredients including powder made from dried Henna leaves, sugar, lemon juice and essential oils; Gehrt said she prefers lavender oil for its relaxing scent. Made by hand until the proper consistency is reached, the paste is applied much like frosting to a cake.
Once applied to the skin, the non-allergenic paste takes approximately an hour to dry. During this time care must be taken to not smear the paste or the design will be ruined. After drying completely, the paste crumbles off of the skin, and a very light stain is visible. By the next morning, the designs will have turned a rich, sienna brown.
The color of the designs is dependent on skin tone, and the stains are darkest at the end of the body. Therefore, a hand design will be darkest on the fingers and gradually lighten as it moves up the hand onto the arm.
“The design takes one to three days to fully oxidize and reach its deepest coloring. Henna, with proper care, will last one to three weeks. It’s a painless, all-natural, temporary tattoo,” Gehrt said.
She said it’s Indian tradition that as long as the Henna design is visible on a bride’s hands, she doesn’t have to do any housework. Unsurprisingly, Indian brides have developed ways to extend the life of the art.
“A small amount of olive oil placed on the skin before washing helps protects it from fading prematurely,” laughed Gehrt.
Hennepin Village Clerk Diana Brandstatter and resident Doris Miller both chose designs for their inner wrists and enjoyed the process that only took a few minutes to apply.
Miller said, “It was fun, quick, and all the designs were beautiful, I’m happy I came tonight.”