Kerala-based sculptor and artist John Baby weaves toys out of palm leaves
Artist and sculptor John Baby weaves toys out of palm leaves. He believes that such organic creations can stimulate the minds of kids unlike guns, JCB, and cars
KOCHI: “Must like parents play an important role in the character development of their kids, toys also have a fair share in the same,” asserts artist and sculptor John Baby. Inquisitive since childhood, John found the answers to his several questions by observing the creation of palm leaf toys; a bent or a twist could change the design as such. At age 10, John got his first lessons in leaf craft; he made a bird. “Among the farmers, there was a moopan (chief) who used to make interesting crafts. So I sat with him and he showed me various forms. In between I earned some coins from him,” he recalls.
The palm leaf (kuruthola) decorations in the shape of lotus, bird and fish adorned the shrines set up for pilgrims as well as in churches sparked young John’s imagination. Hailing from Haripad, Alappuzha, his journey with art started as a child and that too with the basics of weaving. As his father was a farmer and a businessman, John used to accompany him in the fields and on his journeys.
“I was often the workers’ favourite and learnt several craft techniques from them. During rainy season, the workers would make floor mats out of palm leaves. When I disturb them, they would make balls, parrots, and several such figures to pacify me. Though these sections of people were seen as outcasts, I never saw any difference. A major part of my childhood was spent with them and it turned out to have a stronghold in my artistic career,” says John.
John restarted his adventures with palm leaves for his kids - Mintu and Minon - who has won the National Film Award for Best Child Artist in 2012 for the Malayalam film ‘101 Chodyangal’. “I was never interested in giving my kids guns, JCBs or cars as toys. They demand all sorts of things under the sun. These palm leaf creations help develop curiosity among kids and play a major role in shaping them. As I make them, I could also grow along with them,” says John.
At John’s place, education is related to science. He believes that if educated through science, students will learn to create more. Both his kids have been homeschooled. “Their studies involved a lot of creations. When we do things with our hands and fingers, the process helps our brain learn better. No matter how much we learn from books, if you are incapable of doing things with your fingers and hands, your education is wasted, in turn, builds a society which lacks potential,” adds John.
John has earned the nickname ‘God’ from his friends as he creates sculptures of gods. “My grandmother is well versed in scriptures. Inspired by the story of God breathing into the nostrils of Adam and Eve to create life, I used to do the same with my sculptures too,” he quips.
Turtles, parrots, grasshoppers, rats, dragonfly, prawns, made out of palm leaves have found a spot at John’s residence. He has plans to document his unique palm leaf creations in book form.