Adding value to wood

Adding value to wood

Shaping wood into various forms is resulting in shaping lives of numerous artisans. Michael Patrao tells us the empowering story of such talented individuals.

It is said that great artists are born, not made. Some artisans get their trade and skills from their family, who are engaged in their traditional crafts. But often, impoverished artisans need a thrust from a voluntary organisation to be successful in their craft. This is where Shilpa Trust comes in. The Trust works with economically disadvantaged artisans, many of whom have not had access to education. 

The artisans are based within small workshops, many of which are family owned and quite small. These workshops produce a variety of wooden products, including toys and games and ornaments.

The Trust has a workshop located in Channapatna Craft Park in Channapatna town on the outskirts of Bangalore, where  turned wood products are the primary industry. It provides artisans with children’s educational assistance, free health check-ups, social security insurance, a loan programme, skill training and product development.

An active craft

The Managing Trustee of Shilpa Trust, M Bhupathi, has been active within India’s fair trade community and is himself an accomplished craftsperson. He originally learned wood carving and turning from his father Madhavachari, a state awardee. Madhavachari, a traditional wood craftsman, hailed from Tirupati, making temple chariots among other woodcraft. 

He, along with a few other artisan families, migrated to Bangalore in the 1960s, where they were trained by the Regional Design and Technical Development Centre. 

This Centre trains the craftspersons in the use of new tools and in developing new designs to cater to the urban tastes and above all, enable them to market their goods profitably.After his marriage, Bhupathi was given responsibility of supporting his extended family. At the same time, be began to observe the business practices of retail agents in the community, and decided he wanted to bypass these intermediaries and create an organisation that would benefit the artisans. Bhupathi then established Shilpa Trust in 1992.

“As many as 360 artisans attached to Shilpa Trust are making lacquerware toys and utility items, wood carving, statues and door carving, sandalwood statues and carvings, teakwood furniture,” briefs Bhupathi. 

Besides, the artisans working independently in Bhupathi’s manufacturing unit in Kengeri, there are eight artisans and another 20 artisans at the recently established unit in Channapatna Craft Park, where they mainly make lacquerware toys and utility items.

Shilpa Trust assists artisans with latest designs and trains them to upgrade their skills in accordance with the requirements of the market. The Trust also provides financial assistance for buying tools required by the craftspersons.The artisans are empowered by the trust by the way of marketing, certifications and product upgrade.

Adopting modern strategies

“Artisans should learn to change their mindset. Instead of blaming their circumstances, they should adapt themselves to the changing trends and requirements of the market,” says Bhupathi. 

He gives the example of European standards which require the use of non-toxic paint in lacquerware, i.e. European Union Titanium dioxide (E171), a permitted colour, presumed safe in accordance with the directive of European Economic Community (EEC).

Shilpa Trust is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which has a mission to improve the livelihoods and well-being of disadvantaged producers by linking and promoting Fair Trade Organizations, and speaking out for greater justice in world trade. 

With the WFTO’s network, the products of the artisans are exported largely to Europe and UK. In the domestic sector, the products are marketed to Central and State government handicraft agencies and private emporia.

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