Karl Millard is a Melbourne metalsmith whose work has gained high profile, particularly in the Transformations exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. He has mastered a particular method of combining metals in a patchwork pattern that is quite unique and highly regarded. As part of his interest in artisanship, he has also travelled to India where he resided in Tamil Naidu village specialising in metal casting.
Last year he was invited by the Indian silverware company Ravissant to design and make prototypes for silver tea sets. Ravissant was established in 1992 after regular visits by a Dutch silversmith developed a local industry in this medium. One of their designers saw Karl’s work on display at an exhibition of RMIT metal that travelled to the Australian High Commission in Delhi. Karl’s ‘multi-metal’ technique appealed to their interest in colour and pattern.
Technical drawing of water jug
Two Ravissant workers developing a mock-up
All hands on the bench, ready to fill orders
So they invited Karl to spend four weeks at their factory where he would design new tea sets. When Karl arrived, they were in the process of setting up their own casting and enamel departments. Karl found them very easy to work with, ‘You can realise a piece from a drawing quickly. It takes only four days to go from drawing to mock-up in metal.’ It was up to Karl to produce technical drawings for each of the designs that would enable them to be made on commission whenever required.
The ebony handle insert was unusual for Karl, who had never used wood before. But there needed to be heat protection for the hand, and Ravissant had a policy never to use plastic. Karl was also impressed by the way their casting was based on a non-central axis, which contrasted with the Western value of symmetry. He enjoyed making more fluid forms. That’s something he take more advantage of next time.
According to Karl:
The culture of metal in India is so strong. The use of metal in tea pots is like our ceramic teapot here. Their silver tea pots are about everyday use, not about hiding it away in a cupboard. They buy it as a family gift: older people buy a set for daughter or son who is about to be married, or New Year’s Day gift giving.
The growing Indian middle class market provides Karl with an opportunity to make work at a scale and quality he’d rarely find in Australia. Here, his classic pepper grinders are sold only as works of art, for collections rather than use. At Ravissant, they have 122 silversmiths at work, who are able to turn an order for a whole tea set around in a week. For Karl, ‘it’s not based on supermarket or fashion cycle where you have to make 2,000 to make it work.’
Karl’s work represents a new cycle for craft and design in Australia. Rather than a designer commissioning handmade product in a poor country for Western consumption, an Indian company buys the designs themselves, makes them with craft labour, and then sells them to their own middle class. Here’s an opportunity in Australia for seeing our own talent realised, albeit by someone else.
Karl’s work is part of the World of Small Things exhibition