BENGALURU: Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far, said Theodore Roosevelt. But so does my hand carved walking stick, says the soft spoken creative inventor of Bheemstyx, K K Bheemaiah from Kodagu. His sticks, finding popularity in India as well as the US and Australia, demonstrates his passion to convert dead wood into objets d’ art. He literally weaves a story behind each of his products and tells the world through Facebook what goes behind the making of each of these colorful creations from dead wood that was collected from the forest floor.
Whatever nature gives in the form of branches and twigs is converted to pieces of art. They are picked from near Madikeri. Scavenging for different kinds of sticks in the summer months, as he does not believe in cutting trees, Bheemaiah converts them into hand crafted items that are becoming hugely popular. These sticks are ideal for hikers, senior citizens, home decor, shirt hangers, and walking stick collectors. Some even have miniatures while some are shaped as animals or birds.
The portraits on the sticks are sometimes satirical and sometimes comical. Siddarth Agarwal, who is into a 3,000km walk across the country, has taken Bheemstyx as his walking partner for a social cause. This stick was designed for a tall person with an arm rest. The artist adds, “They are treasured by people who buy it. I allow each design to speak for itself. They are made for stability in each step or simply as a fashion accessory stick.” He found his true calling when one day a friend showed him a handcrafted stick collection and Bheemaiah thought it could be done better. He has been using the social media and local flea market to sell his products since he started in December 2013.
Creating a Facebook page and publicising his art pieces through his stalls at flea markets has attracted so much attention that he is unable to meet the demand. Fashion and walking sticks are more popular, says Bheemaiah and adds, “It was in 2014 that I sold my first stick for `3,800. For every occasion, I have been selling and branding a particular type, I get a few calls and also visitors interested in the new theme. Marcus from Austria was so taken with my concept of designing that he purchased two. The story behind each stick is what sells the product and I try to explain in detail to my customers.
However, in the flea market, I have sold the most. People from Sandalwood, Bollywood and other celebrities have appreciated and picked up their choice.” Each of my design is unique as nature provides only one design of its kind. The price ranges from `500 to `12,000 depending on the kind of wood and the detailing work. He manages to sell 40-60 sticks per day. “I feel the thrill and the will to sell my sticks through Facebook and everybody who has purchased, share their photographs on my page. It may be Tori Macdonald from Canada, or Sijjans Sukhani who is planning to buy for his family. I get calls from adventure clubs and there is usually a demand for 5-6 sticks from such groups at a time.”
His walking sticks last anywhere between 10-150 years and Muscle Loader stick is the strongest, lasting hundreds of years. Now how does he get ideas to shape and carve these sticks? He says, “Sometimes ideas just pop up, very small, crazy ideas after I have walked in the jungle for 30km collecting them. Any part of the year, one can find sticks, however, not every stick can be used. Carvings of random faces that is the ‘spirit faces’ have attracted lot of attention. Making them takes 8 months to one-and-a-half years. Making the spirit faces needs lot of detailing.
We only use natural colours.” First the bark is stripped and the branch dried in the sun for two weeks. To prevent splitting of the wood, the ends are sealed and then once again dried for a few months before the final work starts. “Because of their odd size, I carry out sanding and shaping each stick the way I want. After this, elaborate carving is done followed by finishing. I have artists who are involved in the painting and detailing work as these are quite elaborate and time consuming.” His workshop at Indira Nagar has become an adda for artists and volunteers. College students, friends, artists, some 40 volunteers are with him. Bheemaiah is looking for funding to convert his passion into a global brand which by the way is wholly Make in India.