The institution of the museum, aimed at housing objects of antiquity, is of Western origin. Indians themselves did not have a tradition of setting up museums of fragmented sculptures, rusted swords and out-of-context paintings. Broken images were immersed in holy water, worn-out objects were left to decay and merge with the very earth from which they were created. It is due to this continuous process of abandonment of the old and reproduction of the new that the traditions of craftsmanship have formidably survived in India. As India adopted the readymade Western archaeological museum concept in the traditions of craftsmanship have formidably survived in India. As India adopted the readymade Western archaeological museum concept in the nineteenth century, it missed out on the fact that, unlike the West, the ‘past’ and ‘present’ were not so severely divided in its case, and it therefore failed to give adequate importance in its museums to the evolving context of its culture – the living practices of rituals; festivals; weekly markets; picture-shows of itinerant storytellers; the materials, techniques and tools of artisans; the cultural changes and the attitude towards the past and the contemporary tradition as such. It is this overlook dimension of Indian culture which is emphasized in the concept of the Crafts Museum.
Soon after the independence of India, various projects and schemes for preservation and development of handicrafts were envisaged in the First and Second Five Year Plans. The establishment of a Crafts Museum was an integral part of this policy. The core collection of the Crafts Museum was put together in the 1950s and 60s to serve as reference material for the craftsmen whose hereditary traditions were fading on the face of modern industrialization.
The low-lying museum building, most appropriate for displaying India’s rural and tribal arts, is designed by the renowned architect Charles Correa, to act as metaphor for an Indian village street – affable, accommodative and active. A walk across the Crafts Museum building would be through open and semi-open passages covered with sloping, tiled roofs and lines with old carved wooden Jharokhas, doors, windows, utensils and storage jars and perforated iron screens; through courtyards having domed pigeon houses adorned with arches and lattice work panels, terracotta shrines dedicated to basil plants, massive temples chariots and vermilion covered aniconic wayside altars, providing every now and then a peep through a window into vast museum galleries. The scales and proportions of the building are based on those of the tradition Indian village where objects of everyday life are hand made and used.
The Museum’s collection of about 22,000 objects, covers a range of bronze images; lamps and incense burners; ritual accessories; utensils and other items of everyday use; wood and stone carvings; papier mache; ivories, dolls, toys, puppets and masks; jewellery; decorative metalware including bidri work; paintings; terracotta and cane and bamboo work. The Museum’s rare collections include carved wooden figures of the bhutas, fikj deities of coastal Karnataka; tribal bronzes from Chhattisgarh; carved wooden architecture of Gujarat represented by a whole haveli (traditional house), jharokha (balcony) and a palatial façade; embroidered, beaded and printed wall hangings; saris employing techniques of brocade, ikat, jamdani and tie-and-dye.
The above collection is displayed in five galleries as mentioned in the classified information. Moreover, there is a reference collection, comprising about 15,000 objects which can be used by scholars, designers, craftsmen and interested, public for study and research. While brief captions provide basic information about the displayed objects, for further information the Museum’s catalogue could be consulted in the Library.
THE VILLAGE COMPLEX
The Museum’s Village Complex is a remnant of a temporary exhibition on the theme of rural India, set up in 1972. spread over an area of about four acres, the Village Complex comprises 15 structures representing village dwellings, courtyards and shrines from Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
All the huts, courtyards and shrines are built in facsimile with regional construction material and by the respective village masons, artisans, thatchers and carpenters. In every hut and couryard, items of day-to-day life are displayed.
Many a bare wall of the Museum has provided a magnificent ‘canvas’ for visiting tribal and rural artists who have done paintings on them either by confining to their own inherited visual vocabulary or by introducing new creative experiments.
CRAFTSPERSONS AT WORK
By an informal estimate, there are more than 30 million weavers, craftspersons and folk artists living in India who possess inherited skills and by which thy earn their livelihood. In this programme, the Museum invites about 50 craftspersons from all over the country to be in residence, providing them an opportunity to demonstrate their craft and find new market opportunities. The programme has proved to be extremely popular with school children, art students, artists, designers, the craft trade and the art loving public from all over the world. Every month a new group of craftspersons is invited.
RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION
The Museum has a specialized library of more than 10,000 books and periodicals pertaining to Indian arts, crafts and textiles. It is open to public for reference purposes. Under the scheme of ‘Research and Documentation’, field research is commissioned with research scholars all over India to document the living arts and crafts. Nearly a hundred unpublished monographs have resulted from this programme. The museum also has computerized documentation of the visiting craftspersons and master craftspersons and weavers with craft-wise and area-wise categorization.
A modest conservation laboratory looks after the preservation and conservation of the Museum’s collection. Textile repair and binding, mounting of paintings and scrolls, repair of terracottas, wooden items and maintenance of painted wood and papier mache is comfortably handled by the Laboratory.
Delhi-based schools, art colleges and polytechnics are regularly informed by the Museum about the latter’s monthly activities. Thousands of school children and students of art colleges visit the Museum for general exposure to India’s rural artistic heritage or for more practical exercises such as on-the-spot sketching and painting or participating in ‘Creativity Workshops’.
CRAFTS MUSEUM SHOP
The museum has a full-fledged shop selling a whole range of exquisite contemporary handicrafts as well as art books and decorative stationery. Run by the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation of India Ltd., on behalf of the Museum, the Crafts Museum Shop has brought to the public, objects of tribal and rural arts of unique quality. The objective of the Shop is to sell original creations of the finest Indian craftspersons and not to market mechanically replicated ‘souvenirs’. The shop also runs a small cafeteria where mini-lunch, snacks and beverages are served.
– Crafts Demonstrations by master Craftspersons
– Bhuta Sculptures Gallery, Folk & Tribal Crafts Gallery
– Cultic Objects Gallery
– Courtly Crafts Gallery
– Temporary Exhibiton Gallery
– Reference Collection of Handicrafts
– Textile Gallery and Reference Collection
– Village Complex