Art from areca sheath

Art from areca sheath

Areca palm leaf sheath, a waste product of yesteryears, is now popular in many forms, across India and even abroad. It’s modern avatar as eco-friendly plates have brought it fortunes. As this story is turning old, areca palm leaf is now all set for a second attempt to get international fame, as an art piece. MD Mathew, the owner of Usheera Industries in Bhatkal, has been making a variety of handicrafts from vetiver root for many decades now. He has designed over a hundred vetiver products that are attractive as well as useful. Of late, he has taken interest in areca leaf sheath. His creative touch makes the hale (the local term for areca leaf sheath in Kannada) turn into designs like Lord Ganesha, and Yakshagana and Kathakali artefacts.

This is the first time someone is trying embossed art on areca palm leaf sheath. “We have to pick raw materials that are available locally,” explains Mathew.  “Using art and imagination, we can improve the value of otherwise waste product.” If these products are accepted by the customers, he has plans to scale up the effort and include other designs, like a Kerala houseboat, as well.

Designing an embossed art piece from areca palm leaf sheath involves a number of stages. Finally, if the design is acceptable, a metal mould has to be cast. Raw areca palm leaf sheath has to be pressed in the mould, which is heated to give stability to the moulded sheath. Then it crosses different hands to get its final form. In fact, Ganesha, in an abstract form, is a simple but catchy art piece. Mathew doesn’t use any colour or decorations for that. Embossing, cutting, and stitching the edge with a piece of cloth help give the piece an aesthetic look. In contrast, the Yakshagana and Kathakali artefacts have colourful decorations.

“We have just started marketing. Positive and negative aspects are under observation. Over a period of time, we will perfect it after rectifying drawbacks, if any,” says Mathew. Areca palm leaf sheath gets easily degenerated by fungal growth. Won’t this affect the art pieces too? “We have to keep the products in a dry place. When we press it in the mould, all the moisture gets evaporated,” he clarifies.

Mathew’s visualisation and innovation deserve to be appreciated. Today, a good number of units are thriving by adopting his ideas and designs. “I see a lot of vetiver handicraft items in the market now. So, I decided to take up a new raw material. Areca palm leaf sheath came handy,” he reveals. To know more, one can contact Mathew on 94486 29439, or email at

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