Modern take on ancient art is a hit

Brittany Moseley

Photo courtesy of Kristina Haberek

Credit: Ron Soltys

While most college students spend summer working or relaxing, Shea Stewart spent hers drawing on people.

Stewart, freshman fine arts major, was a henna artist this summer for Kaman’s Art Shoppes at Cedar Point. Three managers from Kaman’s came to Stewart’s high school art class last year looking for artists. Stewart was looking for a new job, so after a month of training and drawing on paper, she finally started drawing on people.

“I was kind of nervous, like ‘Oh my God, if I mess up, this is on them for two weeks,'” Stewart said.

Henna is grown in the Middle East, Africa and India. When it’s crushed and mixed with lemon juice, oils and sugar, it forms a brown paste that stains the skin temporarily when applied as body art.

Henna is traditionally popular in the Middle East, but Kristina Haberek, a Cleveland henna artist, said it’s becoming more popular in the United States.

“As far as the bridal stuff that I’ve done, it’s mostly Middle Eastern weddings,” Haberek said, referring to the bridal henna she does for wedding parties. “All of the other people I’ve done have been your average American people.”

Haberak started doing henna nine years ago after she had it done at an outdoor festival. After researching it and practicing henna on her family and friends, she opened her own business five years ago.

“My very first job was an outdoor festival, and it went very well,” Haberak said. “It was the decision- maker in me considering whether or not to do it professionally.”

Kay Abshire, freshman art education major, isn’t a professional henna artist but wants to continue doing it as a side job once she graduates. Her stepmom did henna in college, and she introduced Abshire to it two years ago. She said most people like henna because it’s temporary, but there are other attractions.

“It’s a very calming experience,” Abshire said. “I also think (people like it) because it’s exotic and from another culture.”

Once the henna dries, it forms a hard layer. The longer someone waits before peeling it off, the darker the stain will be. Haberak’s Web site recommends leaving the paste on for 5-6 hours. Designs will be bright orange at first but will gradually darken. Henna lasts 1-3 weeks, but that figure depends on a person’s skin chemistry. Abshire and Stewart said henna is darkest when it’s applied to the feet or hands.

“Hands are good because the skin is thicker, and it holds the color longer,” Stewart said.

Henna is completely safe, but Abshire said people must watch out for black henna, which can cause chemical burns.

“Black henna has the same chemical in it that used to be used in black hair dye, but it was banned in the U.S.,” Abshire said.

It’s safe, it’s temporary, it’s creative and for Haberek, it’s an artistic outlet. Still, she said there is one job perk that trumps everything else.

“I’m getting paid to draw on people.”

Contact all reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].