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 When Gold Meets Glass 

It was destiny calling when, while browsing through a book on art, the shimmer of a gold thewa hand held fan caught her eye. That critical turn of a page proved to be a turning point for Mumbai based Roopa Vohra. More importantly it spelt revival for the ancient and dying art form called thewa. Thewa is the art of fusing an intricately worked out sheet of gold onto molten glass to produce exquisite designs in jewelry and artifacts.

An Intricate design by  Roopa VohraAn Thewa’s 400 year old lineage has strong Mughal  derivations. It is a true blend of  Mughal art with Rajasthani derivations, and Vohra discovered, after much study and search, the last of the surviving clan who still practiced it. The artisans tucked away in a remote village of Chittorgarh held the secrets of artistry so close to their chest, that  even close relatives were kept outside the select circle. There was no way an outsider would be allowed in. But Vohra’s passion and transparent sincerity convinced them to allow her in. Today the art stays a shared secret between the family and Vohra, who is now an honorary member of the Thewa tribe. Thewa would have been a dead art had not this  young lady turned it into a fashion statement. Ever since there has been no looking back. A qualified stained-glass artist and jewelry designer by profession, Vohra cajoled them to widen the avenues of thewa. She infused freshness with a variety in motifs beyond the traditional, from animal  patterns to floral and mythological designs which are more suited for jewelry. “ We had to think of the art in terms of a larger market and larger acceptability,” says Vohra.

Her range includes exquisite handcrafted items from the traditional to the contemporary. Among these are paandans, jewelry, chokers, pendants, earrings, bracelets , rings, brooches, tie—pins, cufflinks and pill, sindoor and cigarette cases. Vohra has also extended designs to vanity sets that include mirrors combs and hair brushes to detailed desk sets with elaborate paper weights, pen stands, ash trays, card holders, wall plates and miniatures.

A painstaking process it is , as thewa is entirely hand crafted. The aspect of art lies in fusing gold and glass. The carvings are done with precisely 23-carat gold, a carat more and it would be too soft , a carat less would be too hard.  A gold sheet is hand carved to precision and then fused into colored handmade glass. The piece is most vulnerable now, since it can disintegrate if the glass solidifies too fast. The next stage too is fraught with peril. The piece has to be hammered into its case and one careless tap could undo it all.

Common glass is too thick for the purpose, while colored glass is not easily available, so thewa workers are used to making their own glass. Traditionally only the colors red and green were used. But Vohra was successful in adding blue and many more hues to the list. Moulding a single piece sometimes takes a whole day in front of the furnace, and a 2’’ by 3’’ piece can take as long as 20 days.

If all goes well, one’s efforts are rewarded with a piece of exquisite beauty. Pieces fit for royalty, bridal flora and fauna scenes peacocks in flamboyant plumage are all ablaze on backgrounds of vermilion, green and cobalt blue.

While the traditional art has remained unchanged, what has had a face lift is its scope and usage. Her ten avatars of Lord Vishnu is now a prized possession of the Victoria Albert Museum in London. The prolific use of silver for casing  makes thewa affordable. There is also a value- for- money range along with the signature line.

It all began a long time ago, today her determination and commitment  has brought thewa a long way, but she says, “ We’ve got miles more to go.” Her workshop in Rajasthan called ‘Of Gilt and Glass,’ is doing pioneering work to keep alive a gold leaf from the past.

To find out where you can get yourself some thewa

Source: Mithu Basu & Roopa Vohra

By: Latika Sidana