Behind every antique piece of furniture with its alluring blend of history romance is the skill of the traditional Indian woodcraft artisan. His knowledge of grains of wood combined with nuanced skills of sculpting, scooping and carving breathes life into dilapidated French compass bureaus and solid Victorian cupboards
Govindaswamy is one such ‘paramparik’ artisan who says, “When I see a lost part in a period piece, I can see it whole in my mind’s eye!” Pointing to a French console table, he says, “It was brought to me with the front portion totally broken. I made the top frame, put all the carved bits together and then recreated the missing pieces. I have also restored a French compass bureau by recreating the entire carving on top, as well as many other period chairs and settees.”
At the moment, Govindaswamy and his 78 year-old father from whom he learnt his craft skills, are restoring an imposing French style bed with white cedar inlay work and baroque canopy stands. This is part of their work, which will be on display at the Aadhi Art Antique exhibition that opens in the city today.
What does the actual process of the restoration entail? Says S. Prabhakaran, who is putting the antique collection together for the exhibition: “After sourcing a piece of period furniture, we take a photograph of it, no matter how broken down its condition. I then surf the net as well as antique furniture manuals for identification of the missing parts. I then have a meeting with Govindaswamy and other artisans for their ideas and inputs, after which the piece is handed over to the artisans. All the wood used by the artisans in the restoration work is also old, sources from demolition sites of old houses.” Govindaswamy uses time-honoured techniques of hand-carving, monkey joint interlocking, wooden nails, etc. using old basic tools.
The Aadhi Art Antique collection includes rare evocative furniture pieces. Opium beds from Orissa, antique gaming tables, 100 to 150 year-old cupboards, display cases, almirahs, carved wedding chests from Andhra, antique typewriters, three piece Edwardian sofa sets, Chettinad style furniture and gate leg drop leaf tables make a fascinatingly diverse period collection.
The exhibition is on view at Aadhi Arts, 571 Anna Salai, near Hotel Mariott Courtyard, Teynampet, Chennai 18, from April 15 to 25.
Keywords: woodcraft artisan Govindaswamy