The revival of traditional crafts and craftwork can be a tricky business. There is always a replacement, however synthetic, that can be manufactured quickly and also costs less. Besides, the original purpose for the craftwork may very well have vanished now.
The lac-turnery craft is one such case. The craft is traditionally used to make toys, but requires a tremendous amount of skill and precision. An eco-friendly craft one hundred percent, lac-turnery involves using wood that is locally grown. The colours that are used are also natural and non-toxic. The waste wood is reused in the craft, and the saw dust is used in the incense industry.
Of late, however, this craft is slowly becoming scarce. The main reasons behind its slow death have been, firstly, the absence of innovation in design, and secondly, the surge in the market of their Chinese replacements which are mass-manufactured and also cheaper.
Although there have been design interventions in the past, not many could ensure sustainable work for the artisans who make the products. That the lac-turnery craft was primarily used to make toys further worsened its state.
This is the backdrop that informs the beginning of Varnam’s work two years ago by Karthik Vaidyanathan. Varnam is an award winning social enterprise that has been collaborating with artisans in Channapatna for more than two years now.
It has sought to repurpose the lac-turnery craft, infusing the work with a utilitarian value as well as an aesthetic merit. And resultant is a series of home and lifestyle products whose original usage as a toy has been bent and adapted to make it widely appealing.
Each of these products from the series called ‘Stories from Channapatna’ has been handcrafted with precision by an artisan from Channapatna, Karnataka. A small town located on the outskirts of Bengaluru, Channapatna is famous for its wooden toys and lac-ware.
The town’s traditional craft also enjoys protection as a geographical indication (GI) under the World Trade Organisation, administered by the Government of Karnataka.
Varnam stands for ‘colours’ and is an ode to the vibrancy and colourfulness of India. Driven by the goal to repurpose the craft to suit the modern context, the artisans are also imbibed in a constant dialogue on the current market trends in terms of finish, utilitarian value, attention to detail and so on.
The product line of Varnam includes home décor, lighting, kitchen, dining and home décor accessories. A part of Varnam’s creations have also been handcrafted by women artisans, ensuring them a sustainable livelihood.
All of Varnam’s products are Craftmark certified. The Craftmark is the highest seal of approval for a handcrafted product that is authentic and genuine and made in the ethical way. The colours have also been tested for US and UK markets and are deemed as non-toxic, lead-free and free of many heavy metals.
Where most other crafts are lost in the mire of brands and cheap, mass-produced products, Varnam thrives on a smart amalgamation of traditional crafts suited to the modern context. It helps these traditional-crafted products to be displayed on par with contemporary products in lifestyle stores and thus, not be relegated to craft fairs alone.