The art of crafting in a nut shell

The art of crafting in a nut shell

Venkatramana Bhat showcasing his collection in Udupi

The inspiration for art can come from anywhere, and a creative mind can transform practically anything into an artefact. Speaking in those terms, art truly knows no boundaries and here’s an instance that validates the same. A few legacies hardly come into limelight though they deserve every bit of it. Proudly functioning under that category is a unique form of artisanship at the remote interiors of Udupi which leaves us in a state of admiration.

Venkatramana Bhat, a simple man living in modest surroundings, has created an art gallery that is confidently one of its kind in the country. The man is an exceptionally skilled sculptor who creates artefacts from coconut shells – the one material that is discarded in abundance in coastal Karnataka. 

Venkatramana resorted to art as a means of coping with an inferiority complex, from childhood. Hailing from a humble background, he never had the luxury of affording artistic tools, so he employed the idea of ‘wealth from waste’ in his work. He began with discarded day-to-day materials, also wood and mud; but eventually discovered that coconut shells are reliable raw materials and display surprising versatility to ideas. There was no turning back, and he has been creating wondrous artefacts from coconut shells for 40 years now. At first sight, one wouldn’t even believe that the artworks at Venkatramana’s gallery are made of coconut shells. He smoothens the shells to eliminate the rough layer, arranges them in right positions, carves them out, glues them together and paints them to form extraordinary showpieces that draw inspiration only from his imagination. The tools used in the process are very simple — such as chisel, nails and glue, but the amount of skill and patience are more than most of us can yield. As he does this only as a hobby, larger artefacts take up to eight months of work, at the rate of two hours a day, to be completed.

His works even tell a story, and he has created over 100 large art pieces so far. As for the smaller ones he’s made, there’s no count. One can notice artistic animals, excerpts from Indian mythology, and artefacts like Gandhi’s monkeys, etc come alive in what were once discarded coconut shells. A few of them are also embodiments of the emotions he deciphers from poetries of popular writers such as Kuvempu. He derives the raw materials at a small price from neighbouring farms and converts them into showpieces. He does sell the artworks as they help him in sustaining his livelihood, but the ones he’s not sold he flaunts proudly at his gallery in Dendoorkatte, Udupi. Venkatramana Bhat’s accomplishments have not gone completely unnoticed. Some of his masterpieces have been bought by and displayed in various institutions. He continues to be a guest faculty for one of the schools in the area, but he says that he dreams of running an independent school where at least a handful of students can be trained by him.

The former entrepreneur who owned a store in Davangere has now turned to full-time artisanship. Though it does little to support his livelihood, it keeps him happy. His gallery amazes visitors as the collection is years of hard work, simplicity and expertise framed into a single unit.