img_0494-radha-krishna-ona-swing1024 Guriya Kumari  ‘Radha Krishna on a Swing’  2015

In 1977, while conducting research in Madhubani, in the state of Bihar, the American anthropologist, Raymond Owens, was stunned by the beauty of some of the paintings on paper that he saw.  Aware that commercial dealers were grossly underpaying the artists and forcing them to mass produce paintings to achieve any reasonable income, Owens encouraged artists to take their time, do paintings they truly cared about, and offered to buy them for 10 to 20 times the dealers’ prices.  When Owens returned to the US he showed the paintings he bought to fellow anthropologist, David Szanton, who was equally entranced by them.

Together they agreed they would mount exhibitions, take donations for as many paintings as they could, and when Owens next returned to India he would return the funds from the donations to the painters, as a second payment to encourage them to do their best work. He would also continue to purchase the best paintings he could find for the next round of exhibitions.  In 1980 along with several colleagues, they established the Ethnic Arts Foundation (EAF), a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to sustaining the Mithila painting tradition.

Today the EAF continues its mission of supporting Mithila art and artists through exhibitions, publications, lectures and especially through the Mithila Art Institute, the free art school established in 2003 by the EAF  to encourage and train the next generation of Mithila painters.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  David Szanton, President , Ethnic Arts Foundation

David Szanton is a social anthropologist with a long standing interest in art and society.  A co-founder of the Ethnic Arts Foundation, and its President since 2002, he has published extensively in India on Mithila painting, curated many exhibitions, and helped found the Mithila Art Institute in an effort to gain recognition and appreciation for the painting tradition, and art and life sustaining income for the artists in rural Bihar.


parmeshwarb  Parmeshwar Jha, Vice-President, Ethnic Arts Foundation.

Co-Founder of the Mithila Art Institute, along with David Szanton and Joseph Elder, Parmeshwar Jha is a retired professor of economics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Born and raised in Madhubani, he became engaged with the art and artists and Raymond Owens in 1991 and in innumerable ways has supported the artists, the Institute, and helped the EAF to mount exhibitions to promote the art in the US, India, Europe, and South Africa.


peterzirnis150 Peter Zirnis, Treasurer, Ethnic Arts Foundation

Born in Latvia and raised in Brooklyn, NY,  Zirnis was educated at New York University and the International Center for Photography. Teacher, computer programmer, photographer, curator, his interest in Mithila Art began with the purchase of some vibrant, energetic paintings in New Delhi some years ago. He makes yearly visits to Madhubani, advises painters, curates exhibitions, produces a blog on Mihtila artists, and assists with IT issues.


joe-elder  Joe Elder, Retired ,Co -founder of the Ethnic Arts Foundation

A co-founder of the EAF and the Mithila Art Institute, and a professor of sociology, languages and cultures of Asia, he has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1961.  One of the leading scholars on South Asia in the USA, he has produced 25 documentary films on the region including two films on the Mithila painters.