Traditional Indian crafts are finding their way into people’s houses as design looks homeward for inspiration. Lakshmi Krupa has the details...

Madhubani murals on your walls. Beaten copper candle holders. Tribal art. Vibrant Kutch crafts. Tanjore paintings. Terracotta sculptures… Even as the modern home-owner wakes up to the world of traditional Indian crafts that can be aesthetic and functional, all across the country social entrepreneurs, art enthusiasts, designers and decorators have realised that the time is right to engage in meaningful relationships with artisan communities. They connect buyers with beautiful, centuries-old crafts, provide design intervention and come up with ideas that make these crafts relevant for new age homes.

Sumiran Pandya of Gaatha, a venture that connects artistes with buyers and brings to light the stories of their art, says that the current home-maker generation is at last looking homeward after “periodic infatuations with various trends ranging from the shiny glass steel ledges of American corporates to Zen homes from the oriental regions. A decade on, now seems to be a time of homecoming. There seems to be a sense of search for roots and identity for these new homemakers, and this they surely express in the spaces they create.”

Five years ago, Gaatha was researching Indian handicrafts and learned that every five to seven years about 10 per cent of Indian rural artisans are quitting their work and moving to the city as slum-dwelling day wage urban workers. “This deeply moved us; we saw in it the most colossal loss,” Pandya says. Gaatha, based out of Gujarat, was initially only an academic research project, focused on archiving the process and heritage behind crafts. “However, we soon realised that artisans were tired of facing 'welfare' research groups and giving interviews into notepads which never got them much in return. They needed not policies and hand-outs but stable business and revenue; they needed to be the heroes in the eyes of their next generation such that the craft-technique is seen as an aspiration and not an inherited burden.” Today, Gaatha not only educates but also sells a whole range of products made by these artisans.

In 2009, Nisha Vikram quit her 9-5 corporate job in the big city to co-found a start-up that researched and documented crafts in Ahmedabad. “The move was more a start-up itch; I wasn't in love with crafts at that time. After a couple of years, I had travelled to little villages across the country and interacted with a whole lot of craftspeople. I understood that the key issue with handicrafts is the disparity in our country. We urban folk do not relate to the craft aesthetic prevalent in villages. The craftspeople are, in turn, clueless as to why their beautiful pieces in myriad colours don't appeal to us. Thus the decline in demand leads to a decline in supply and over time the craft dies,” she says. Vikram realised that translating the urban idea to the rural language was the need of the hour. She started CraftCanvas in 2011 with this objective. “We believed that there is a place for India’s traditional crafts even in the most modern of spaces – imagine a monochrome Pichhwai ador-ning your minimalist living room wall or beautiful deep-green Athangudi tiles in your Mediterranean-style porch or even a stone sculpture from Shivarapatna that offsets the bonsai in your balcony garden. To make this possible, we knew that we had to bridge the gap between the artisans and the urban customer, translating an age old craft into something modern and relevant to the urban audience,” she says. 

After working on and simultaneously learning from projects, CraftCanvas now has a structured process to transform ideas to a stunning finished product with a very high level of artistry.

“We constantly keep pushing the idea of making crafts a part of everyday life. For most of us, it ends with a good kurta collection. For our homes, we choose the most modern and utilitarian options that are more in sync with our lives,” she rues. Like Gaatha, CraftCanvas too insists on understanding the artisans’ stories before partnering with them. Vikram’s projects have ranged from translating the local Kalamkari (Mata Ni Pachedi) textile craft to a cheerful wall mural in a lush bamboo garden to creating a city skyline on Uttarayan (annual kite-flying festival) using simple metal frames and traditional textiles.

100 Krafts is another venture that seeks to bring high class workmanship to urban homes. It connects artistans with home owners in meaningful ways. If you want a mural on your wall, 100Krafts will bring an artist from Madhuban to paint right at your home. “We are also working with carpenters from Saharanpur,” 

Nishant Gupta of 100 Krafts says, “They make furniture as well as home accessories using wooden carving techniques in any type of wood. The rates are amazing and it gives a distinct, traditional and rich feel to home interiors. We are also working with bamboo furniture manufacturers from Assam and Tripura who can give some amazing end products.” Apart from National Award winners from Saharnpur, 100Krafts also works with artists for Dhokra (Orissa), Pattachitra (Orissa) and Gond (Madhya Pradesh) art.

Varnam by Karthik Vaidyanathan works with Channapatna artisans to produce beautiful hand-crafted lac turney décor products. Coppre by Rashmi Ranade works with metal craftspeople “by contemporising their products for today’s lifestyle, thereby making the old relevant in the new”. 

And this list just seems to be growing...