Use it as an adornment. Use it as a wire. Use it as roofing. Use it to drink water. Wondering what is the material being referred to? It’s copper – the metal with a variety of applications. Incidentally, it was the first metal to be used and moulded by humans eons ago.
The firm I am about to explore is involved in using this metal for a better purpose. Studio Coppre in Pune works with local Tambat artisans to help revive and reinstate the age-old craft of the same name. It was when Rashmi Ranade visited a favourite local heritage sight, Tambat Aali, the precinct of the copper artisans they now work with, that she struck gold, figuratively.
Rashmi Ranade, Founder of Studio Coppre unravels how the studio commenced, “I worked sporadically with the artisans; my studio along with INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Pune Chapter held three design workshops that were sponsored by the government-run Handicraft Board. INTACH then took on the community mobilisation and marketing work for the project.”
In 2011 Coppre was established as a brand working for social impact amongst metal-working artisans of India. A seed grant from the Forbes Marshall Foundation, Pune next year enabled the formation of the present team at Studio Coppre. They aim to bring an abandoned craft back to life, provide a sustained livelihood for the artisanal community as well as offer stunning handcrafted utilitarian copper items.
“Copper as a metal is soft, yet can be shaped; shines to a mirror finish yet develops a rich tarnish over time and is 100% recyclable. Our team often refers to it as a ‘politically correct’ material. I always loved copper as a material, and watching the Tambat craftsmen (an entirely male dominated group) shape the copper and execute their hand beaten ornamentation (called mathaar work) in machine-like precision was always mesmerising,” shares Rashmi .
The portfolio of their products includes decor and utility items such as floaters, lights, cutlery and water holders, while they also come up with varied collections occasionally. Speaking about their most popular wares, Rashmi says, “Our hottest selling items are our water bearers as drinking water from copper has health benefits. Copper is light friendly, so our other bestselling series are our Tea-light Holders. The demand for our Flower-Floater series spikes around festivals. Our Retro-Boxes are perceived as heirloom giveaways and are popular choices for wedding and personal gifting. We ensure that each of our products stands for traditional values fused to a contemporary international design language.”
All products undergo a time consuming and tedious process to shine with finesse and become masterpieces in their own sense. The entire process, right from the designing to sourcing and creating the product goes through a lot of re-working and numerous quality checks. Products go through 30 to 50 steps in the production including cutting, sanding, cleaning, heating, cooling, spinning, washing, beating, filing and buffing which are the basic processes.
The process of lacquering a product happens after buffing. Rashmi elaborates, “A complicated piece would need about 10 additional steps. Each plate-sized platter would have about 2500 strokes of the hammer – achieved only after years of skill honing.”
The resultant finish is spectacular and speaks of an unmatched quality with the added benefit of being handcrafted. Speaking of which, we come to the skilled artisans behind these magnificent pieces. The Tambat craft is 400 years old with Shivaji and the Peshwas being its early patrons for religious and military needs.
However, the glory of the Tambat artisans was marred with the British banning the production of arms, the dawn of mechanisation; while rising copper prices lately, materials like steel and plastic and provocative opportunities besides the craft, have led to a near stagnation. It is disheartening to know that now only about 80 of these craftsmen continue this legacy.
The team has had their share of experiences working with the artisans. Rashmi says, “It is both a privilege and a rewarding experience. But ensuring quality and timely supplies of orders is a nightmare since it’s largely an unorganised sector. The new artisan is reluctant to change, but his attitude takes a turn between the first order and the second. After receiving praises and monetary rewards, he can’t wait for his second order.”
Rashmi, equipped with a specialisation in Product Design from IIT, Pune started creating designs after studying the metalworking process. She collaborates with the artisans through each and every step of the production. Traditions, rituals and heirloom pieces form a crucial part of Studio Coppre’s inspirations. “There are memories linked to heirloom pieces. We believe that resurrecting vintage pieces keeps the nub of the evolution of traditions going – the threads of yore merge with the currents of the now, to keep the narrative alive,” shares Rashmi.
Copper oxidises on exposure to the atmosphere, and thus ages naturally. Yet it is important for a customer to wipe uncoated water carriers with a soft cloth and detergent daily, while lacquered copper products should be cleaned with a moist soft cloth sans detergents or scrubbing.
With international shipping available, those overseas can also order copperwares from the studio’s website. Surprisingly, there is a global upswing in the demand for copper.
Rashmi says, “The material copper has been trending on the international home décor and design landscape. With a worldwide resurgence for fast disappearing handcrafted goods, there is a great appreciation and market for our wares together with the social impact story that our project carries.”
Those of you interested in bringing a glimmer of copper to your home, head over to Studio Coppre in Pune or their online venture. It will surely make a difference.
Text By Rehana Hussain