Whenever Coppre’s photos pop up on Facebook, I practically salivate. The warm luster of copper makes it my favorite metal, far above silver or gold. It’s like copper wants to reach out and embrace you, while silver is far too cool and gold is a few levels too high. Copper’s warmth is welcoming.
Coppre is a company in Pune, India that is keeping a traditional skill alive. They work with the Tambat metal craftspeople in Pune who have a 400-year history with creating copper wares. Coppre helps to connect these craftspeople with modern product designs and gives them a worldwide marketplace. As I scrolled through their Facebook, I was fascinated with their story. So I did a little interview with them to share it with you …
Why copper as the metal you use?
We love the sheen of copper. Copper reflects even the minutest changes in light quality; Light is a muse to copper. It is so amenable and versatile in accepting finishes – it can be made to shine bright, it dulls if left unfinished and can age to a rich natural patina over time. Also, copper is one of the oldest metals. It is very traditional and we want to present it in a contemporary fashion.
So, this is a 400-year old art form from Maharashtra? Can you tell us more about the history?
The ‘Tambat” craftspeople we work with are traditional metal-working artisans. The craft itself has a recorded history of over 400 years. The skills and craft tools are passed on from one generation to the next. They migrated to Pune, in Western India, in the 17th century on the invitation of the Peshwas when they set up Pune as the administrative base. Under the Royal patronage of the Peshwas, the craftspeople flourished and made products such as artillery, seals and coins, ritual objects and utensils until the British victory over the Peshwas. The craftspeople were then relegated to making utensils.
Over the years, the craftspeople have had to face enormous challenges from growing copper prices, competition from machine-made and other easy to use materials such as plastic and steel. Coppre is an effort to make the heritage traditions relevant to today’s times with our design and marketing interventions. The craftspeople also work with Traders and are paid either on a kilo basis or on daily wages.
Coppre wants to bring in a paradigm shift in this – so we remunerate our artisans for each product crafted by them. We want their products to be perceived as a piece of art rather than an as an object.
Can you tell us about the process of making a Coppre product? What tools are used?
Tambat craft is a skill intensive craft and needs strength, dexterity and a keen hand-foot-eye coordination. The skills are passed on from one generation of the family to the next. ‘Matharkaam’ or beaten work is the distinguishing feature of Tambat craft. The hand-beaten indentations, made by profiled beating hammers, strengthen the object and enhance the inherent rich surface by imparting a mirror-like appearance. It is the only skill that the community could save from the onslaught of mechanization with the coming of British rule, which to date has not lent itself to be mimicked on any machine.
Here is a step-by step process of how Coppre’s popular Meditation Urli is made. Click the photo to open a larger size:
Some of the tools used are khod karvai (metal worker’s saddle), shaping hammers, beating hammers, shears, marking tools, pincers and the like. These are passed on from one generation to another within the family.
The Tambat community has faced many challenges. The loss of the patronage of the Peshwas, the introduction of mechanization and the bans imposed by the British, forced the Tambats to set up their own shops to sell their wares to the commoners. Over the years, the members of the Tambat community practicing this craft have continued to dwindle. There were upto 800 Tambat households in the early 1970s. By the early 90s, The Tambat households in Pune city fell to 250. Currently, about 80-100 families directly depend on the Tambat Craft for their livelihood.
Hit by changing traditions, rising copper prices on the commodity markets in recent years, the convenience offered by materials like stainless steel and plastic and the provocative economic opportunities outside the confines of their craft, has led to a near stagnation. Yet some families of the community persevere with this craft of shaping objects from sheets of copper they carry on the ghadkaam (raising, sinking and shaping of the utensil), the crafting of ritual wares, nakshikaam (repousse and chasing), and the crafting of one-off temple objects.
Passed on through apprenticeship from one generation to the next, today the craft remains in the hands of a few craftspeople with even fewer willing to take on this heritage craft.
You have a modern take on traditional Indian wares which is a nice twist for today’s homes, such as your meditation urli. Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
We believe that there is much warmth, richness and cultural integrity in India’s designs and skills of yore. Traditionally, craftspeople lived and worked closely with the communities they serviced. Contemporary market requirements have now become alien to craftspeople as trends and fads are now dictated by a class (and geography) of people that are several times removed from our craftspeople. Coppre’s Founder and its Design Lead, Rashmi Ranade, believes that skilled craftspeople should once again have a direct link and contact with markets.
Some of Rashmi’s inspirations for Coppre’s collections include:
In the inaugural series, ‘Beautiful Copper’ she contemporarized her grandma’s trinket box and her mother’s meditation urli. The Ayurvedic practice of drinking Tamrajal (water stored in a copper vessel) from the lotta and kalshi, inspired her to create the bedside water carafe.
In ‘Lamps & Flowers Festive Collection 2012’, she drew inspiration from nature- from palm leaves, castor leaves, peepal leaves and lotus buds.
In ‘Vintage Inspirations 2013’, she draws from influences of from a trunkful of antique brass/copper utensils, puja/ritual accessories brought to India by her friend’s grandmother during partition, from erstwhile East Pakistan.
Will Coppre products develop a verdigris patina?
We coat our Coppre wares (except the Bedside Water Carafe and the thalis & katoris) with an imported lacquer which retards the oxidization. The shine on the Coppre wares will remain for 2-3 years depending on the humidity.
My husband grew up in India and he says during his childhood, the family’s drinking water was kept in a big copper vessel. I’ve heard that copper has antimicrobial properties. Is this true?
Traditional wisdom and practice prescribes the use of copper for storing drinking water. Copper vessels used for drinking water were ubiquitous across India. In Ayurveda, it is recommended to drink tamrajal (or water stored in a copper vessel). Scientific studies today show that water has anti-microbial properties amongst other benefits.
I see you can put together gift packages for wedding guests? What a wonderful idea. How could a bride go about doing this for her wedding?
Indeed! Copper is an auspicious metal and it makes for great wedding gifts. Besides, a handcrafted product is even more special. In a sense Coppre is a marriage of good design and our precious heritage. You could write to [email protected] for more information.
How can people find out more about Coppre products?
P.S. I own a set of these coasters. Coppre is right when they say they can give a traditional craft a modern design sense! And their packaging is lovely too, with little copper stamps.