Channapatna to London: The dying craft on revival path

Sitting in a small 6×6 feet room in a narrow bylane in Channapatna, 30-year old Suneeta is giving final touches to a wooden bangle.She was forced to do odd jobs for nearly a decade after China-made copies of Channapatna designs flooded the market. But the recent efforts to revive the traditional woodcraft have brought back smiles to the faces of hundreds of artisans here.

“I’m excited to be back and do what my family had been doing for generations,” says Suneeta as she gives shape to a piece of wood.

And this year, so far, has been particularly good, with the Channapatna wood craft being chosen to be showcased at the London Design Fair 2017 scheduled from Septem ber 21-24.

Located about 70 km from Bengaluru on the Mysuru highway, Ramanagara’a Channapatna town is a crafts cluster of over 3,000 traditional artisans engaged in making lacquerware. They use the technique of lacquering by which wood is turned on a lathe and given different shapes, mostly circular. While it is being turned, the wood is given a coating of resin lac and paint and polished with a screwpine leaf which helps spread the lacquer and give the wood a shine.

The wood used is hale or writia tinctoria, a soft wood found locally and which lends itself easily to the turning operation.
All set for the London Design Fair, a four-day industry event that brings together 500 exhibitors from 28 countries, including independent designers, established brands, international country pavilions, features, and exhibitions, the Channapatna wood craft finally seems to be on the revival path after a decade-long lull.

Guiding the hopeful artisans is architect and designer Atul Johri who blends the traditional wood art with avant-garde designs. “This is perhaps the first time that Channapatna wooden ware is traveling this far. We at Tulsi collections under Atul Johri Designs have gone beyond the common napkin rings and candle holders. There will be vases Flower Girl dress, glass chimney holders, board games, tableware such as salt pepper cellars, spice jars, coasters, lacquered bowls, cookie jars, and fash ion accessories to name a few. Lamps will be a big attraction,” says Johri who moved from Delhi to Bengaluru in 2004, and made Channapatna his home three years later.

The key to the revival of Channapatna’s traditional wooden ware is to create an exclusive product line that catches the fancy of corporate clients. Designers have been collaborating with corporate houses to get bulk orders for these colourful eco-friendly wares.

Sandesh India, a non-governmental organization, has also been working to impart vocational training in toy making to differently abled children. “The products are made by artisans in Channapatna and assembled by these children,” said an artisan.

Article by Seetha Lakshmi from TOI