14. The Ladle Maker, Kutcch, Gujarat

As I walked into this little courtyard in Nirona in Gujarat, I saw a treat for the eyes-hundreds of wooden spoons, ladles, toy tops and bread boards in bright colours and swirling patterns completely covered every inch of the saw-dust laden floor.

These little objects were being crafted by the same traditional method practised for centuries in the village of Nirona in Kutcch. Used around the world wooden ladles are not unique, but these ones were. Hand made with lacquered rings in brilliant colours they would never fade or split. These wonderful objects have spiced up my kitchen since that visit.

Colour permeates every single sphere of life amongst the desert dwellers in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Perhaps as an antidote to the arid featureless desert, colour pervades not just the gorgeous clothes of the Kutchi people but even the small, items of everyday use such as these objects.

The lacquer lathe work in this family had been practised for seven generations. The whole family is involved in this craft, with men doing the heavy work of cutting and shaping of the wooden articles and women applying finishing touches to them. This strapping man had two wives, I was introduced to both!

Nothing here is machine made; electricity is not used in the process. I was so reminded of the philosophy of Arts and Crafts movement in Britain that lasted a mere forty years from around 1880-1920.

The wood is a local fruit wood called babool. The colour comes from mineral dyes made from stones found in the area and the lacquer bought from local merchants. They work using simple tools, even the lathe is portable.

I watched as the compound of the lump of colour and lacquer was pressed against the fast rotating object on the lathe. Due to the heat generated by friction of the lathe the lacquer melts and is indelibly stuck to the surface of the wood, thus imparting colour. A final polish with vegetable oil seals the colour in forever.


Original:  Oil on canvas ; 12 x 16″  (305 x 410mm) ; framed

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Sizes available: 8 x 12″(203 x 305 mm); 12 x 16″(305 x 410mm); 18 x 24″(457 x 610 mm); 24 x 32″ (610 x 813mm)

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