Based in Austin, Texas, Handmade Expressions partners with artisans in India to produce eclectic, one-of-a-kind products that support the aesthetics and ethics of its artists. Some of our favorite pieces, the Hand of Buddha Jewelry Stand and Owl Eyeglass Holder come from two of their non-profits, located in a town at the foothills of the Himalayas. Over three hours away from New Dehli, Najibabad is a small rural area, historically known for its woodworking.
With such a storied history in crafts, it’s no wonder that most of the artists in this community learned their skills at a young age from family members. This strong tradition helps Handmade Expressions create beautiful pieces that utilize the artisans’ skills in intricate carving, filigree, and inlay work. While some of the designs are made out of small woodshops, most workshops are run out of the home, letting large, combined families work together as they see the project through from beginning to end.
Run by Manish Gupta, this collective is devoted to the development of underprivileged artisans. The constant flow of work has helped unearth a great amount of talent that had previously gone under appreciated. “In the five years we have been working with this community, we have been able to provide constant work to more and more artisans,” says Manish, “this starts to build confidence in the community, starts to make the art more respected, and the community can start to think about long term development aspects.”
Intrigued by the designs produced by this region, our founder and CEO, Dave Bolotsky, took a trip to India to see how the artists work within their community. “Most moving for me was seeing newly built schools, pumps for fresh drinking water, and solar panels powering lights,” says Dave. “ These are the hard-earned results of growing handicraft employment for villagers.”
In addition to exploring the town Dave took a trip to their studio to watch the artisans create each design by hand. Each piece is made using sustainably harvested Sheesham wood, sourced through dead or fallen trees. Once procured, the first artist in line uses a man-powered machine to initially cut the wood. They then work as an assembly line to carve down the block into a charming nose or owl-shaped eyeglass holder. A final polishing using natural wax and lacquer completes the process, leaving a one-of-a-kind piece that harkens back to a generations-old tradition.
Looking forward, Manish hopes to continue the community’s long-held tradition of woodworking by attaining economic stability for the artists. “Our partnership with UncommonGoods to bring some of these items to market has been a key part of our work,” says Manish, “it takes time to bring a long-term change but economic sustainability is the key element in that— our work focuses on that.”