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Craft Museum: Living tradition of Indian Handicraft - I
Leslie V Pereira | 14 Apr 2008

India has rich culture and tradition maintained since last five thousand years. The main way to pass on traditional knowledge was by means of “Shrutis and handicrafts”. Handicraft is a national treasure of our artisans knowledge.

First step in this direction was taken by Shrimati Kamla Devi Chatopadhaya who did survey & toured India, collected samples & establish a museum in 1952. In 1956 this museum was commercially established with an aim to showcase & promotes the work of native artisans. In 1972 it was shifted from Thapar house to Bhairon Road, Pragati Maidan. It has authentically counted huts which are beautifully decorated with folk art & exhibits include wood carvings, paintings, paper - Mache, embroidery & a full sized wooden haveli from Gujarat. The core collection of the crafts museum was actually put together to serve as reference material for the craftsmen who were increasingly losing touch with their own traditions in terms of materials, techniques, designs & aesthetics’ of their arts & crafts due to the sudden changes caused by modernization and industrialization. Here the craftsman feels free to confine to his tradition or to innovate in response to his new contemporary environment.

The large permanent collection of 20,000 items of folk and tribal arts, crafts and textile is housed in a concrete, but almost ‘invisible’ building. Charles Correa, the architect, had a challenge before him on the one hand to provide a pukka building for safe preservation and display of the rare art objects, but on the other, not to let the building be so imposing that it would belittle the humbler objects collected from village homes. The scale and appearance of the building had to be such that it would not attempt to upstage its ancient neighbor, the Purana Qila on the one side and the Village Complex of the museum on the other.

Consequently the low-lying building has old carved wooden doors and windows from Gujarat and Rajasthan. central courtyards having champa trees, tulsi shrines and a monumental temple-car coexist in this “modern” building not as revivalist ethnic chic exercise, but as a contemporary juxtaposition of past traditions in a modern building meant for a modern Indian Crafts Museum.

The museum’s collection, built over a period of thirty years, comprises bronze images; lamps and incense burners: ritual accessories: utensils and other items of everyday use: wood and stone carvings; papier mache; ivories, dolls, toys, puppets and masks; jewellery; decorative metal ware including bidri work; paintings; terracotta; cane and bamboo work and a large number of textiles, from different regions of India. Galleries of folk and tribal arts and crafts, aristocratic objects, and that of traditional Indian textiles, display selected objects within these categories which are unavoidably overlapping as the culture itself. Moreover, there is a “Visual Store’ for reference, comprising about 15.000 objects which can be used by scholars, designers, craftsmen and interested public for study and research. While brief captions provide basic information about the displayed objects, for further information the Museum’s catalogue could be consulted.

The Crafts Museum Shop on the premises sells books, picture-postcards and a whole range of exquisite contemporary handicrafts. The objective of the shop is to sell original creations” the finest Indian crafts persons and not to market mechanically replicated souvenir.

The Museum’s Village Complex is a remnant of a temporary exhibition on the theme of rural India. Spread over an area of about four acres, the Village Complex comprises 15 structures representing village dwellings, courtyards and shrines from Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and the Andaman 8t Nicobar Islands.

All the huts, courtyards and shrines are built in facsimile with regional construction material and by the respective village masons, artisans, thatcher’s and carpenters. In every hut and courtyard, items of day-to-day life are displayed.

Many a bare wall of the museum has provided a magnificent ‘canvas’ for visiting tribal and rural artists who have done paintings on them either by confining to their own inherited visual vocabulary or by introducing new creative experiments.

Every year ‘Creativity Workshop’ is organized to provide artisans from different countries a platform to demonstrate their craft and find new market opportunities. By an informal estimate, there are more than 30 million weavers, crafts persons and folk artists living in India who possess inherited skills and by which they earn their livelihood. In this programme, the museum invites about 50 crafts persons from all over the country to be in residence. The programme has proved to be extremely popular with school children, art students, artists, designers, the craft trade and the art loving public from all over the world.

To be continued...