The leather replicas of animals created in Indore cater to the enthusiasts of taxidermy. The animal kingdom in all shapes and sizes are made approachable using this method. They are mainly created as showpieces, furniture and souvenirs.
The leather toy-making craft is a brilliant example for showcasing the craftsmen's talent. An accurate figurine, complete with posture details and muscular curvature, is skillfully created by the craftsmen merely using a photograph as reference. Even the patterns and textures on the skin are done with lifelike precision. The designs span from and encompass the animals in various poses and they are priced in accordance to the height of the toy.The Giraffe and elephant toys are seen to be the most popular among these. The factories usually store three bulk stocks to ensure a good rotation -“ the first batch is kept for the process of manufacturing, the second one created for foreign export markets and the third used in transportation to markets. The models are readied and stocked accordingly. The leather is stuck and is only worked upon, when orders are placed.Most of the workers involved in the craft belong to the scheduled caste or tribe and often work from home for larger export houses. Women and children are involved in the work too. Different families have specialized themselves in the various steps involved.
Myths & Legends
One of the oldest crafts known to man is that of tanning animal hides to produce functional leather.From the earliest of our histories, mankind has used animal skins for clothing and shelter. But, the skins became stiff at low temperatures and rotted in the heat. Animal fats were eventually applied to keep the skins pliable. Humans have utilized this property and developed many utilities like garments worn on the feet or body, to keep food or water etc. As soon as we civilized Hunting of rare and ferocious animals, an ancient method of survival soon developed into hobbies of the rich and powerful. The feats were so brave and difficult that they would often display their exploits as trophies. This tradition led to the development of 'Taxidermy', the art of preserving animals in their original forms and it received the patronage of the elite. The art slowly spread its influence onto other artifacts and the clever craftsmen found ways for common man to have it too. Leather was used in crafting various animals from scaled down versions to life size ones. India is famous worldwide for its leather products. In the rural areas of India, hide from cattle and camel is locally cured after tanning, it is used to make different products.
The craft of leather making in Indore was pioneered by 'Gaffar Khan', who received a National Honor in 1943. He was a graduate of 'Bombay Art College' and was employed in a government run press at 'Devaas'. He would sculpt deities for festive occasions. Later he came upon the idea of making animals and giving them a realistic look. He experimented in leather tanning and using human hair to create the effect of fur on animals. He later found, that using plain leather without fur made the products more appealing. He developed this craft form and sold the animals at a local market called 'Meena Bazaar'. This caught up in popularity and his fame spread far and wide. This craft form was so liked by the people that the government authorities requested 'Gaffar Khan' to train young artisans in the craft. These craftsmen slowly grew in number and the craft evolved into the leather toy industry of Indore. Its popularity reached its peak in the 90s when the textile mills closed in 'Malwa'. People who had been laborers in the mills started learning the craft and now there are more than 5000 skilled craftsmen and a few have them have their own factories.
The leather toys are designed in various scales and sizes (5 inch to 15 feet), and stuffed to resemble the shape of animals. Sometime these animals are shown to be in action, like elephants with raised trunks, running horses, raging bulls etc. The toys are worked in such great detail that even the texture of their skin and shades of color are matched to the original. The sizes range from life size to small portable ones that would fit on shelves. Many of the toys are also decorated with small patterns. These toys are made in such a way that they stand on their own and are not placed on any base or support.
Leather is a difficult material to source in present times causing an escalation in its cost. This has caused a drop in production and sale of stuffed leather animals. The other major challenge the craft faces is the monotony in designs leading to buyer disinterest. With time the designs and products have failed to change or evolve, causing stagnation in the craft.