South Asian Arts and Crafts

About Us

Learn about our mission, our artists and their craft on this page.

MISSION         ART AND CRAFTS       ARTISTS

Our mission is simple: using the principles of fair and direct trade bring rural cottage industries to an urban audience. We help rural craftsmen to sustain their livelihood and protect dying art forms, and provide our customers with unique hand-made functional and decorative pieces from far away lands called Sri Lanka and India. We directly trade with the artists, taking the middle-man out of the picture. We provide a fair price to the artist based on what they consider fair for their work and at the point of sale. Many businesses only give a portion of the sale price after a piece is sold.

We hope to provide the best products and service to our customers at the lowest prices possible. We take great pride in our small company, our commitment to customer service and in the products we sell. Our online store is designed to provide you with a safe and secure environment to browse our product catalog.

If you have any questions we will be more than happy to provide a personal and prompt response.

ART AND CRAFT FORMS

B  C  D L M S

BATIK FABRIC ART

Batik is an ancient textile art practiced in many eastern cultures including Sri Lanka. First a design is sketched on a cloth. As these sketches are done by hand there are no duplicates. Then 3 basic steps are followed, which are repeated until the final desired effect is achieved. The first stage is the application of hot liquid wax in areas where a certain dye is not wanted. The second stage involves dipping the cloth in liquid dye. The second and the third steps are done quickly, as the wax dries and starts to crack and the dye starts to seep through them. Even though the wax is applied to prevent areas from getting dyed the cracked effect is the mark of batik. The third step involves removing the wax to expose and get the next areas ready to be dyed in another color. This process is laborious and time consuming, and may take days to months.
We feature Batik blouses for women, shirts for men, and decorative pieces for your home and office walls.

BIRALU LACE

Biralu or Lace is an ornamental openwork fabric formed by looping, interlacing, braiding, and twisting threads. Lace work was introduced in Sri Lanka by the Dutch in the mid- 17th century and has survived in the southern area of Galle of the island where it still remains alive but as an underdeveloped cottage industry with women making lace at home. The name Biralu used for Lace in Singhalese comes from the Portuguese word bilru used to describe the bobbins. We feature tablecloths, table-runners, and cushions.

COCONUT CRAFT

Coconut Trees are abundant in the island nation of Sri Lanka and all parts of the tree, root to the leaves are used for food, and day-to-day objects. We feature kitchen utility items made from the hard shell of the dired fruit, and the wood from the trunk.

In our Kitchen section we feature a Sugar or a condiment jar, and a Serving or Cooking spoons and in our jewelry section we have coconut wood bracelets.

DUMBARA WEAVE

In the little village of Kalasirigama, (formerly Henavala) in Menikhinna, in the Dumbara Valley of the Kandy district, a small group of families are engaged in their traditional craft of weaving Dumbara mats and tapestries. People from the Kinnara community have practiced this age-old craft since the days of the Sri Lankan kings, when they enjoyed royal patronage and the craft flourished.

Today, only about 10 – 15 families are still employed in this craft in Menikhinna. Though the craft has come down from generation to generation the younger generations are moving away to other employment as they feel the income from it is insufficient.

We feature tapestry, which can be used as area rugs, or throws, table runners, tote bags, and cushions.

LACQUERWARE IN SRI LANKA

The ancient craft of lacquerware started in Central Sri Lanka from where it spread to the rest of the island. Today the lacquerware is imported from India because the lacquer insect is no longer found in Sri Lanka. The traditional metod of extracting lac is a long process. The lacquer insect secretes a resin and favors only certain trees and bushes. The branches on which the resin are found are collected and set aside until the insect settles. The resin is scraped off without harming the insect, and then put in thin cotton bags and heated over fire to melt the resin, which is collected in a separate container. Natural mineral dye is added to the lac to produce the brightly colored lac by heating again. The application of the lac onto wooden objects differs depending on the school of craft. The traditional school of Central Sri Lanka is known for its fingernail work. The lac of different colors are heated to make it soft and supple are drawn into thin threads and applied onto the object while using the fingernail to create the design and then heated and polished with an ola leaf to get the desired effect.

Other common method of colouring is layering the object with three different colors one top of the others and a pattern is scraped on the outer colour letting the dye underneath show through. The outer color is usually black or green, with yellow and red in two layers below. The other method is to carve a pattern on a prepared background and filling it with the dye.

MADHUBANI PAINTING

Madhubani (Forest of Honey) Painting is a style of painting done traditionally by women of the Madhubani and Mithila region of Bihar in Eastern India. Traditionally used to adorn outdoor walls during festivities, now this art has moved on to handmade paper and textiles. Cow dung treated handmade paper is painted with natural dyes made from flowers and other organic material. (Soot for black, rice powder for white, turmeric for yellow, red from sandal wood, blue from indigo) Fingers, twigs, matchsticks are used as paintbrushes. The handmade paper, crease resistant, is lathered with cow dung (undigested residue of plant matter) to give the earth color and also protect it from perishing.

We feature an assorted motifs already framed to be hung on your walls.

MASKS OF SRI LANKA

Masks in Sri Lanka are used in traditional dance dramas still performed in rural parts and sometimes even in the urban cities. There are two major types of dance drama in Sri Lanka; the Kolam and Sanni.

The Kolam is a secular entertainment with considerable elements of social satire. It incorporates narrative, mime, dance, and music. A Kolam performance usually has four episodes the precise content of which may vary. These consist of a prelude, detailing the origin of the drama; the arrival of a royal party and dances by characters mythical, human and animal; enactment of a popular story or stories; and a purifying demon dance.

It is said that the Kolam theater originated to appease a pregnant queen's craving to see masked dancers. This drama is a mythological rural opera with three sets of characters enacting a repertoire of skits from Buddhist and other lore. The characters are humans, as royalty and villagers, animals and demons; they enter the stage at night, singing, dancing and reciting verse till dawn. You can find them listed as Theater Masks.

Sanni Masks on the other hand come from another rural tradition, but not related to entertainment rather to the serious business of medicine. As many cultures in the west and the east, before modern medicine became popular it was believed that people got sick because they were possessed by a demon, and the only way to cure a person was to entice the demon out of the body through a ritual, which included a masked dance by the local medicine man who wore a big mask with the various ailments depicted as smaller masks. Today you may still find some people who still believe in this method, but it is becoming less and less popular making it difficult for the mask makers to sustain their livelihood. Thus a new industry of masks makers has emerged who still use the basic 18 "demons" for their art form, but take liberties in the depiction of the demon. You will find them here with the masks with snakes, a symbol of disease. 

You will also find other masks called Spirit Masks for a lack of a better word, since such cultural translations can be difficult. They are called Raksha masks. They are also used for dance dramas, and the most common ones are the Naaga (cobra), Mayura (peacock), Gurula (Eagle), Gini Jala (Fire Water). They refer to the natural world and the Gurula-Naaga dance is a popular one, where the Eagle and Cobra fight and finally the Eagle captures the Cobra.

MEENAKARI ENAMEL JEWELRY

Hand-made in India these Meenakari (Enameled) Bangles follow the historic tradition of decorative metalwork introduced by the Mughal Royals to decorate their gold jewelry and other precious objects. Our bangle base is brass, the commonly used metal in place of the traditional gold. The metal surface is engraved with traditional designs, then filled with enamel, and placed in a furnace to fuse and harden the bright colored enamel to the metal surface.

SAORA PAINTING

Saora paintings, done by one of the oldest tribal group of Orissa, an eastern region of India, have been used for ages to decorate village walls to please the gods. Saora paintings are intricate and colorful. Many paintings are dream sequences; others depict natural and communal scenes. Bamboo splits are used as brushes and natural plants and materials are used as paint such as rice powder for white, soot for black, leaves for green etc.

We feature a framed painting of the Tree of Life, a common motif, representing our dependence on the natural world.

SCREW-PINE WEAVE

As the name may suggest, Screw Pine is not a Pine tree after all. It is a tropical stubby plant that likes to grow close to the seacoast, and has long leaves covered with sharp thorns. The process of converting Screw Pine leaves to beautiful and colorful reed that are then used to weave into utility pieces can be a lot of hard work and time consuming. Strong Monsoon rains can easily destroy the plants by washing them away. Once the leaves are cut from the plant, the thorns must be removed carefully, as they can be very painful. Then they are split in half and boiled. After which they are soaked in fresh water overnight, before they are dried. The natural reed now has an ivory color, which can be dyed in vibrant colors, before starting the weaving process. These are some of the beautiful screw-pine pieces we carry.

 

ARTISTS

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