|Shanta (left) and Sulagna Ghosh
Terracotta is being given a makeover. Designer Shanta Ghosh is crusading to rekindle peoples interest in terracotta pottery and is filling her signature store, Sienna, with edgy designs in this earthy clay. The idea is to give a contemporary twist to home décor in materials like terracotta and clay, says Shanta, 57, the woman behind Sienna.
So, expect to be awed by alpana-painted dinnerware in glazed terracotta, brass-bordered cane tea-coasters and even terracotta sculptures.The store in Calcuttas City Centre mall even has an audio-visual running continuously that showcases rural artisans creating Sienna products.
Siennas repertoire in glazed terracotta (its dipped in a chemical that lends glaze to it) is arty, chic and utilitarian. Apart from terracotta, Shanta also uses other natural materials like cane, wood, bamboo, coconut shells, leather and shola (a material resembling thermocol) to design her line of home accoutrements.
Take your pick from artistic wooden teapoys (three-legged tea tables) and traditional wooden sculptures from Burdwan. Glazed terracotta beer mugs, diffusers and urns are eye-catching while chunky jewellery made of dried seeds and fruits are unusual. Papier-mâché items and popular Auroville products like incense sticks and diffuser oils also find a place here.
Shanta is an architect who turned product designer. After completing her masters in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, she began her career as an architect with Kuljian Corporation in Philadelphia where she worked for 10 years. She returned to India and took over as the chairperson of Development Consultant Private Limited (DCPL) and the Suresh Amya Memorial Trust (SAMT), bodies that are involved in running charitable schools and hospitals.
Shanta also set up a factory (and called it Confetti) in Daronda, 13km from Shantiniketan, with an eye on reviving traditional forms of craft using terracotta, clay, cane and dokra-work. She began manufacturing home products and retailed them from an outlet — also called Confetti — that she set up in Jodhpur Park.
Since we were supplying glazed terracotta items like cutlery sets and dinnerware to top hotel chains including ITC-WelcomGroup and Hyatt, I felt the need for a larger operation and a full-fledged store, says Shanta. Sienna opened in September last year.
Her workshop in Daronda has 30 permanent workers who are rural artisans trained by SAMT. Additionally, there are 200 temporary workers who are Calcuttas art students from Kala Bhavan and Government College of Art and Craft. They are paid on a per-piece rate. Shanta also organises computer-training and health camps for her workers.
The designs are conceptualised by a core team of four designers including Shanta and her daughter, Sulagna, who has just returned from the US after finishing her studies. Sulagna says: Apart from reviving our Jodhpur Park store and opening new Sienna outlets in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, we also plan to sell online and in the future, export to the US market.
The urban consumer is conscious of what is stylish — and yet is utilitarian, says Shanta. People look out for designs with a longer shelf-life. So, we update our look and designs regularly.
Shanta continues: Decorative hand-made tiles are in demand and so are custom-made terracotta murals. Earthen tea sets and beer mugs are also popular, she says.
Another traditional craft that is returning to popularity in West Bengal is dokra-work, which is all about metal-casting designs in clay. We use the best quality brass and clay, which makes our costs a little higher, she says.
The designer duo is very conscious of keeping the environment clean. Sulagna says: All our products are lead-free and we are also trying to employ gas kilns instead of electric ovens.
A 2-ft bird feeder (Rs 10,000) made of glazed terracotta is displayed among sets of short mushroom-shaped lights. A set of six such lights costs Rs 2,500.
A hand-painted earthenware teapot comes with milk and sugar bowls attached to its base (Rs 2,000). Other glazed terracotta products include a puja set consisting of an incense-stick holder, a flower bowl, a water jug and diya (Rs 400), diffusers with scented oil from Auroville (an easy-on-the-pocket Rs 150), beer mugs and cups (Rs 100-Rs 150).
You can also take your pick from vases and urns costing upwards of Rs 2,500 and terracotta sculptures ranging from Rs 4,500 to Rs 30,000. Small animal figures to showpieces in dokra cost between Rs 50 and Rs 12,000.
Handbags made of chatai (cane) and wood are priced at Rs 350. A set of two foldable teapoys in glazed terracotta with ethnic decorations on them cost Rs 2,000. Papier-mâché pen holders and jewellery cases are priced between Rs 90 and Rs 400.