This artist brings the susegad of the Konkan region to her sculptures and figurines

A delicate artisanal production Konkan house, complete with pebble roof, attic and colored walls; a dipping bowl with a little winged visitor perched on the edge, and a mother with her son, apparently dropping him off at school – these are just some of the daily vignettes that feature on Olee’s Instagram page Maatee.

Olee Maatee is the brainchild of a Pune based papier mache artist Bharati Pitre, whose depiction of everyday life through its small collectibles reminds us of simpler times and the little joys in life that often go unnoticed.

Bharati Handicraft Workshop was born in Devrukh, a small hamlet in Ratnagiri district, in the heart of Konkan region. It started as an initiative of CREDAR (Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship, Development and Research), a trust created by Bharati’s in-laws, Vasant and Vimal Pitre.

“Olee Maatee means wet ground, something the Konkan region and its craftsmen are famous for,” Bharati explains in a conversation with His history. She believes that as an artist, being true to one’s surroundings, one’s research and one’s vocation brings the best of artistic talent to the fore and allows artists to give something new to the public.

Bharati Pitre with a craftsman, putting the finishing touches on a figurine. Bharati grew up in Mumbai and studied at Sophia Polytechnic.

The artist and his muse

For Bharati, being true to her environment has led her to find inspiration in the flora and fauna that surround her.

“There’s this Kingfisher bird that’s all over our farm. And maybe he knows we celebrated him, because he now comes very close to us, perches on the chair outside or on the lawn. It’s beautiful,” she remarks, explaining the idea behind her signature ceramic dipping bowl that features a kingfisher perched on its edge, almost as if ready to dive. The product is hand glazed and cast by artisans at the Bharati Handicrafts Unit in Devrukh.

Varun Pitre, son of Bharati and CEO of Cufuka Craftworks, the parent company of Olee Maatee, says, “An unfortunate aspect of our country is that many people from small towns are starting to migrate to cities due to lack of opportunities. . It changes the complete fabric of a city, leaving very little incentive for people to stay. When my grandfather created the Pitre Foundation, it was clear that the goal would be to create gainful and sustainable professional jobs for the local population. »

The Foundation operates the Devrukh College of Art and Design and also organizes artisan craft workshops in the city.

“The original idea behind these workshops was to create an infrastructure for artisans,” says Varun.

He adds that despite the skills of artisans, there was still a huge gap in their understanding of market needs, and the cost, effort and exposure required to reach that commercial market.

Birth of Olee Maatee

Although artistically inclined from childhood, Bharati’s early years of marriage were spent helping in her husband Ajay Pitre’s orthopedic implant business.

“When I started pursuing my own career in commercial art, it was all about computers. The world had moved on and I had no connection to technology. That’s when I realized I was more of an artisan than a commercial artist.

She admits her confidence was low when she signed up for a week-long course in papier-mâché art from Sharad Kumar, the grandson of famous artist Ganga Devi.

“He was a wonderful teacher who introduced us to paper pulp and the organic way of handling paper pulp as they do in Mathura Brindavan area where they use fenugreek seed powder or hing (asafoetida) as binders,” she recalls, adding that the simplicity, naivety and unassuming format of her works impressed her immensely.

Bharati’s Konkan characters and figurines on Olee Maatee are particularly unassuming, be it Pammi Aunty or traffic cop Mama with her big belly.

“I created them with smaller heads and bigger bodies because they are ordinary people. I want to celebrate their lives as just ordinary people leading their extraordinary lives.

After spending nearly two years developing and curating products for Olee Maatee, Bharati decided to take timid steps into the commercial market through exhibitions in Mumbai in late 2018-2019.

Varun says, “We realized there was demand and acceptance for our designs. The exhibitions showed that we could recoup expenses towards craftsmen and materials. While we had the proof of concept, my mother’s main interest was in papier-mâché and sculpture. That’s when I told him I would help him market this.

He adds that in order to have a clean transition from a foundation to a commercial enterprise, the Pitres created an independent entity called Cufuka Craftworks. “We want to grow organically and we want to grow with the artisans we have with us. We therefore give full employment to the 16 artisans who work in four mediums – ceramics, terracotta, papier-mâché and bamboo,” explains Varun.

Olee Maatee

Olee Maatee artisans in Devrukh with Bharati Pitre

And then ?

“We are comfortably self-funded and do not wish to seek external funding just to post geometric growth. We have been a little cautious about showcasing in the 100 different markets available today,” says Varun, adding that the company was able to earn between Rs 15-20 lakh in 2018-19 solely from exposure sales.

In the last year since the company launched its social media, website and B2B sales, it managed to reach Rs 50-60 lakh, according to Varun.

In the B2B segment, Olee Maatee dove into differentiated giveaways like bespoke murals, installations and commissioned artwork. It is now branching out into more universal product lines like tableware and serving utensils to tap into the hospitality segment.

Despite the growth, the Bharati artist has these closing words: “We would like to be a global brand one day, but also be very relatable at the same time. Our next project will be about our rescue dog Gopi, who is always covered in red dirt from his antics.

For a brand that literally means “wet ground,” perhaps Olee Maatee has also found his mascot in Gopi.