Mhow, and the adjoining regions in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh have several clusters and self-help groups engaging in papier mache art and craft. The handicrafts typical to this area are also popularly known as leather crafts involving a skillful amalgamation of papier mache, clay art, sculpting and painting.
Though the districts of Indore and Dewas have many big entrepreneurs working in the specific area of leather toys, small groups and clusters, still foraying into this art form, practice this art with basics of papier mache work and other raw materials easily accessible to them.
Indeshwari Borashi (40) from Chikhli village in Mhow has been practicing papier mache and leather toy works since three years with the help of government schemes and local NGOs in the area. The famous products made by these women are animal figurines and utility items such as decorative furnishings crafted in various shapes and sizes. Horses, turtles, camels, small centre tables are some of the most popular handicrafts from this region.
The papier mache technique forms the sole basis of these products. Made with old newspapers, cardboard and other kinds of waste paper a mix of raw pulp is obtained by soaking these materials in water. Tamarind seeds are then used to prepare flour which is then mixed with the paper pulp so obtained. This blend is then mixed with glue which is also locally prepared from tamarind seeds. All ingredients are kneaded to obtain a paste.
The next steps include preparing frames as desired out of wires, and stuffing these structures/frames with hay so as to give these arrangements, volume. The entire frame is then tied with threads to keep stuffed hay intact, and to also obtain a robust skeleton of the desired figure – ready to be coated with paper and glue mixture.
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The third step is to apply uniformly- the paper, clay and glue mixture to this rough skeleton so obtained. Extra care and precision is required to apply this mixture so as to give these ‘strictly physical sketches’- a smooth, uniform exterior, and to also render a definitive shape to the anatomy of the figure, done through and through with meticulous hand impressions.
The final stage involves the application of leather coating. Artisans belonging to bigger clusters and groups or those working with private entrepreneurs usually use a mix of all authentic ingredients. Thin films of cardboard and leather are finally cut, paste, coated neatly and homogenously so as to define the entire framework of animal skeletons, previously layered with paper pulp. Once all these processes finish, these items are then left to dry. It is important to note that women and men engaged in the leather toy making industry make these handicrafts throughout the year, intermittently ceasing their work in monsoons owing to factors such as excessive moisture and fungus.
The groups we met experimented with their creativity and inventiveness with shades of brown and black paint, oil and wax polish so as to lend these toys an original ‘leather-like’ color and look. Once the entire spectrum of activities involving delicate and neat painting is over, artisans finally adorn these figures with accessories made of metal, thread and artificial leather. Thus reused newspaper and tamarind seeds finally, metamorphose into regal creatures from the wild with horses, turtles and camels, ready to offer a rural quotient- to interior and home décor!
Because this craft practice provides for an important means of livelihoods, papier mache and leather craft is gaining significance among locals. Increasing number of people look at this beautiful, cost effective crafts form as an alternate source to their incomes. Moreover, exposure visits and workshops for children from nearby schools have been time and again organized so as to enhance their creative potential and develop their cognitive abilities, while also inculcating interest in them towards art and craft.
Waste Management & Recycling: Significance in Art
These techniques highlight the dexterity of rural poor to utilize easily available natural resources, and recycle waste materials than depending upon expensive raw resources which are difficult to access owing to market and financial constraints. The handicrafts economy running here in Chikhli also highlights the dependence of native crafts on managerial acumen, resource utilization behaviour and traditional knowledge of the poor, while keeping itself abreast with contemporary demand and tastes of urban markets. Usage of waste paper, newspapers, hay and seeds highlights subsistence ethics and creative acumen coming quite naturally to these rural ‘entrepreneurs’!