‘Antique Tables and Chests,' an exhibition of wooden furniture, aims at restoring the lost glory of the precious period stuff.

‘Wood is good,' the mantra of eco-sensitive lifestyle, assumes particular relevance when it comes to restoring and nurturing precious period furniture. Precious not just because it preserves rare rosewood and teakwood out of which the furniture forms are crafted, but because with the process of restoration comes the continuation of old skills such as monkey joints and marquetry. And precious in the value they add with social history which every furniture carries forward.

As the Victorian, Edwardian and Raj periods recede further into the past, their mystique and charm remain in the drop leaf and gaming tables at which the sahibs spent their leisure hours, the secretaries which carried secrets in their pigeon hole, the settees and planter chairs which grace drawing rooms and verandahs. Today their reproduced counterparts add a touch of antique grace to interiors.  

Central to the antique period furniture is the creative and immensely talented achari, wood artisan, who centuries ago replicated opium beds or chaise lounges from sketches and drawings adding his own special touches with the lotus motif here or a Mughal floral and wine border there, creating a unique genre of furniture. Today his descendant continues to re-invent and reproduce by recreating whole pieces out of broken down bits of planks which once formed a whole antique furniture piece, from the tiny wooden shard of carving or the imagined intricacy of a barely seen claw's foot.  

Govindaswamy of Tiruvannamalai is one such achari from a Vishwakarma family who learnt his vocation from his father. He arranges his basic tools in front of him: a hammer in variegated sizes, ‘uli' to hit the hammer and different sized tools to carve and scoop. He gets to work to give the finishing touches to a secretary which he has restored to its original glory.

Challenging makeover

Says Govindaswamy “I can reproduce from any photograph and conceptualise from any reference, be it a bit of wood carving, one half of a furniture piece, or broken down furniture pieces. I do hand carving, monkey joints, sizing, etc., and can minimise or expand any given piece of reference furniture. Sometimes when we do restoration, pieces of precious wood are left over. Out of them I make small chests.” But his challenge lies in the makeover of huge antique pieces such as beds, chests, dining tables, etc. “I have just finished a base in creating an old ‘paniyari' or landlord's chests. Some pieces require minor touch-up like this round table which had developed a wide crack in the middle. I restored it with beading work. But much of the furniture comes to us in a totally broken down stage. Reconstruction of such pieces involves studying old photographs carefully, conceptualising and piecing them together. In the process of reproduction I have learnt a few lost techniques.”  

Govindaswamy's reproduced antique furniture items can be seen at the ‘Antique Tables and Chests' currently on in the city.

The collection comprises intriguing rose wood jewel boxes and chests ranging from camphor chests to kanakapillai or accountants chests complete with grass embossing.

The tables present a fascinating spectacle ranging from rosewood secretaries to William and Mary pieces.

Also on display are writing tables that fascinate with their wooden shutters, elegant ‘end tables,' rosewood breakfast tables, dining tables and much more. One might chance upon a treasure chest complete with mirror and hidden jewellery cabinets. Much of the furniture on show is waiting to be restored on order while a few pieces look as good as old. 

‘Antique Tables and Chests' is on at Aadhi Arts, 571, Anna Salai, Near Hotel Marriott Courtyard, Teynampet, Chennai – 18 till March 10.  

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