Henna art blesses the body in transition

Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 1:34 p.m.
Westbrook mehndi artist Mary Kearns applies henna to Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly as a blessing while Stephanie Shaw watches. Henna, or mehndi, is an often communal, ancient art form that originated in India and is traditionally practiced by women.
Westbrook mehndi artist Mary Kearns applies henna to Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly as a blessing while Stephanie Shaw watches. Henna, or mehndi, is an often communal, ancient art form that originated in India and is traditionally practiced by women. Buy Photo
Mary Kearns creates a mandala with henna paste on a pregnant belly in Westbrook. When dried and crumbled away, the brown paste leaves a temporary red stain on the skin as can be seen on Kearns' hand.
Mary Kearns creates a mandala with henna paste on a pregnant belly in Westbrook. When dried and crumbled away, the brown paste leaves a temporary red stain on the skin as can be seen on Kearns' hand. Buy Photo
Jennifer Bailey watches Mary Kearns create mehndi art on her pregnant belly in Westbrook. &quotWhat better way to celebrate the belly and the art," said Bailey. &quotI love it."
Jennifer Bailey watches Mary Kearns create mehndi art on her pregnant belly in Westbrook. "What better way to celebrate the belly and the art," said Bailey. "I love it." Buy Photo
Mary Kearns has practiced the age-old Indian art of mehndi since 1996. Her largely improvised designs are based on traditional themes but flow freely as she creates.
Mary Kearns has practiced the age-old Indian art of mehndi since 1996. Her largely improvised designs are based on traditional themes but flow freely as she creates.
Using henna, Mary Kearns of Westbrook draws a blessing mandala on Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly. Henna is made from the plant of the same name.
Using henna, Mary Kearns of Westbrook draws a blessing mandala on Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly. Henna is made from the plant of the same name.
Her henna design complete, Mary Kearns photographs Jennifer Bailey. Stephanie Shaw, and daughter Lilly, look on.
Her henna design complete, Mary Kearns photographs Jennifer Bailey. Stephanie Shaw, and daughter Lilly, look on.
A henna mandala, by mehndi artist Mary Kearns, graces Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly. Bailey is due to have her second child in two weeks.
A henna mandala, by mehndi artist Mary Kearns, graces Jennifer Bailey's pregnant belly. Bailey is due to have her second child in two weeks.

WESTBROOK, Maine — Whether applied to a pregnant belly, a bride’s hands or atop the bare head of a cancer patient, henna artist Mary Kearns’ designs are meant to be blessings.

“That’s what we’re asking for,” said Kearns.

Each free-flowing, temporary work of art carries its own unique energy as she channels it onto an individual, living canvas of skin. No two are alike and the creative energy itself dictates the patterns. It’s that energy that can make henna transformative.

“I think the natural gift of henna is that it does help mark times in people’s lives,” she said. “Whether it be a birthday or a wedding or a celebration of a religious holiday or a pregnancy — or helping someone receive beauty during illness.”

Like those moments, marked in time, henna is temporary.

Henna, also known as mehndi, is the age-old art of dyeing patterns on skin. The technique was known to ancient Egyptians and the Roman Empire. It’s still popular in parts of India and a few Arab countries. A brown paste is made from the henna plant and other ingredients. It’s squeezed from a tube or bottle onto the skin. When the paste dries, it crackles away leaving a reddish-brown stain that can last for weeks.

Mary Kearns came to Maine to attend art school from her native New York in the early 1990s. She never left. She taught herself the technique, though it was hard to find good information in the pre-Internet days, she said. Since then, Kearns has made a mehndi pilgrimage to India and traveled this country practicing her art.

Mary Kearns’ website is www.theeyeofhenna.com.

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