Indian artisans have produced inlaid wooden furniture at all levels of sophistication from simple bone inlay patterns to detailed, complex and exquisite inlays of ivory, rare woods and mother of pearl in designs fit only for the wealth of a Maharajah. The technique is not only used for furniture - this beautiful wooden vase has intricate patterns of inlay which involved skilful appreciation of the curved form.
Inlaid wooden furniture is not unique to India. And neither is the technique of inlay limited to wood. Precious metal and stones have been inlaid into bronze and marble in many cultures including ancient China, Egypt and the Arab world, and in Europe. But in this blog we’ll concentrate on contemporary objects from India. But first, some colour: this inlay of coloured gems into white marble is on the Taj Mahal, the most photographed building in the world.
The first stage of making inlaid wooden furniture is to uses pencil draw the pattern on the wood and the quality of the original drawing is crucial. Small pieces of camel bone are carefully slivered and shaped and then the wood is chiselled out to receive the shape of the inlay. Floral motifs are popular, often stretched out into long chains of flowers, leaves and stems and often combined with geometric borders. Resins are used to keep the inlays in place and to fill the residual spaces. Though in the case of the Taj Mahal the perfect fit of the accurate cutting of the stone meant that no adhesive was used - which is why bored British soldiers in the days of the Raj were able to winkle out the stones - that's the reason the more accessible inlays are often missing!
A simple geometric inlay pattern gives a lift to this simple cinema chair but this chest of drawers has been given the full treatment, the inlay is what the chest is about, it's not just a decorative detail.
This beautiful old spinning wheel has been carefully inlaid with bone, the moving circles join up to create concentric circles when the wheel is spinning.
On this old inlaid wooden mirror the bone has been carved and shaded to give more detail, the effect is more like mother of pearl.