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Crafting joy: Wood and the art of making

Indranil Banerjie | Updated on September 06, 2021

Made in wood: Indranil Banerjie took to woodworking about a decade ago, driven by a desire to create things with his own hands   -  IMAGES COURTESY: Indranil Banerjie

A first person account of how a hobby became a small business during the pandemic

During the height of the Covid-19 second wave, it was not uncommon to receive calls from distraught friends and acquaintances complaining they were going out of their minds sitting cooped up at home all the time. “I can’t take it anymore,” was a common refrain.

While I commiserated, even sympathised, deep down I felt it need not be that way. For, humans can adapt to the worst of situations, and even Anne Frank, locked in her claustrophobic annexe, could think of something inspiring to do. For us, it was so much better. For me, it was woodworking.

I had taken to woodworking some 10 years ago, driven by a childhood desire to create things with my own hands. By then the Internet and online ordering had arrived and for the first time, an average Indian like me, could learn and practice woodworking. I was also blessed by the opportunity to see first-hand some of the masterpieces of woodworking in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Moscow and London, and I knew this was what I wanted to do.

A craft or art when it becomes an obsession draws you into its folds, the rest of the world recedes and you realise you won’t be bored ever again. So, when the pandemic forced us indoors and inwards, it was almost welcome. That was the time when I decided to take my work one step forward: Begin to sell it.

Over the years I had made many pieces of furniture, boxes and clocks — sold some, gifted many and stuffed our home with what I couldn’t part with. But now the growing output of my work needed release and so a small business was born.

Passion project: Banerjie’s is a micro enterprise — more of an artisanal venture than a proper business, and he mostly makes boxes and clocks

 

This is a micro enterprise — more of an artisanal venture than a proper business. I take time and care to make everything on my own which means output cannot be great. The idea is not to produce in bulk like a factory of a furniture workshop, rather the aim is to make each piece unique, more like art than manufacture. I think of my workshop as an artisan’s studio. I look upon myself as a craftsman, not a businessman.

The biggest challenge was marketing. Fortunately for people like myself, the social media offers a modicum of opportunities and it is there I turned with the help of my wife, who is savvier about these matters. Then came the website which I designed and deployed myself. I also invested in studio lights, stands and other paraphernalia for taking good product pictures.

All this helped in getting the word across and I began to get orders from the beginning of this year. I was most pleased to find that I got orders from places as unexpected as Poland and the US.

Selling is only one part of the enterprise; the principal part is the making. That is the inspiration, the raison d’etre as well as the ultimate objective. Wood has its own secrets and mystique as well as the propensity to inspire people to shape it into something, transform it into a work of art or utility. I, like millions of others, have been drawn to the beauty of wood and learnt to understand some of its qualities, its variations, behaviour and so on. I have been sharing some of my experiences and lessons learnt in my woodworking blog at which attracts thousands of views each month.

I also learnt that design is the other most important part of woodworking, which is quite apart from the use of tools and techniques employed in the craft. I had two main sources of design inspiration: One came from the 18th-century cabinetmakers of England and the US. That was the golden age of furniture design and the works produced then are incomparable even today. The second source of inspiration came from the works of Indian artisans in olden times, who painstakingly created objects of great beauty and style. Both these influences have shaped my aesthetic and I feel I am still learning.

As a craftsman I feel there is a huge amount one can take from the past and adapt all that to create exquisite objects. For instance, my box and clock designs are based on objects that were crafted by Indian and European cabinetmakers based in Calcutta in the 19th century as well as by artisans in small places such as Bengal’s ancient capital Rajmahal, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and so on.

I wish in my own small way to preserve some of the long-forgotten traditions; I believe that all great art and craft stand on the shoulders of previous art and crafts traditions. Without traditions we are, after all, like the fiddler on the roof.

Indranil Banerjie is a researcher and woodworker based in Greater Noida, India. Email: Indian.woodworker@gmail.com

Published on September 06, 2021

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