SABITA RADHAKRISHNA

Some teaching, some learning, sums up Denis Kenward's experience in the Andamans.

I turned to shell jewellery BY accident...

THE Crafts Council of India hired Denis Kenward of New Zealand, an international designer, to conduct workshops for seashell jewellery. These were for the tsunami-hit craftspeople so that they could learn to make contemporary jewellery for an international market and get a steady income. Kenward came across as full of enthusiasm, anxious to share his expertise with the local artisans. His zest belies his years as he talks about his designing... What kind of designing did you do in New Zealand?I have been diving for shells since the age of eight! I have worked mainly with Paua shells. With polishing, it gives a distinctive dimension. I have rarely seen this technique employed elsewhere.Were you always designing shells?Oh no! I was designing brass furniture in Vancouver, a lot of them beds. When this literally broke my back, I turned to shell jewellery, quite by accident. I also do sheepskin rugs and sell my creations online.How was the Andamans experience? Frankly I did not know what kind of equipment would be available at Port Blair Design Centre so I had taken a pneumatic sanding spindle, a 200mm polishing mop, sanding belts, a 3M wheel and polishing compound with me. I was pleasantly surprised to find an array of equipment ready for me.What kind of shells did you work on?The mother-of-pearl was too thin to be marketed for an exotic price overseas. The cowrie shells were small and thin-walled. The Trochus shell was ideal but we did not have a sensitive cutting device to make the shapes I wanted; so I recommended that the CCI get a band saw with a metal-cutting hardened blade or a slow revolution bench saw. Trochus pendants with perfect finish have a ready market in the high-price category. My most exciting find was the Black Penna Shell, which has a magnificent texture and translucence when finished. This should do outstandingly well in the international market. Others like the Papaya shell, the Conch Shell need more experiments.Did you have any reservations or problems while working?When I saw the women wearing saris, I was terrified that it would get caught in the machines. But they knew how to deal with it . Some of the women were so diminutive that they could not handle heavy machines. I am bothered about the finish. I kept sending back the students if there were any imperfection in the product. Would you repeat the experience?I just loved being here. I learnt so much from them. For instance, you have that ingenious cord and bead system where the size of the necklet can be adjusted and I think it is a super device and elegant with the tassel at the back! Yes, I will be there if invited again!