Metal crafts

Country: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s metal-based crafts include blacksmithing, bronze casting, brass casting and carving, and gold and silversmithing.  Blacksmithing has been a central craft as people needed household and agricultural tools such as knives, axes, adzes, mammoties, plough-blades and sickles. Until recently, there was at least one blacksmith’s workshop for a cluster of villages.

(a) Sand-cast and beaten (carving) brass-work manufacturing processes; (a) preparation of the sand mold; (b) pouring of molten brass; and (c) carving ornamental objects using the ‘beating’ technique. Photo and image credits: Asitha Amarakoon

Craftspersons from Kandy and Moratuva cast large bronze bells for temples and churches. Bronze casting to make memorial portraits of VIPs or decorative objects for commercial establishments are done by trained artists rather than traditional craftspersons.

Door-locks, keys, hinges, key-plates, and bolts are commonly made of brass. Brass is also used to make betel trays, areca nut slicers, lime boxes, and betel-pounders as betel chewing remains a popular habit. There is a high demand for brass ornamental objects, especially for tall brass oil-lamps that is believed to be an auspicious object.

Goldsmiths make jewelry with or without studded gemstone. Silversmiths make jewelry, filigree work, and gift items such as tea sets, mainly for foreign buyers. Silversmiths also practice European craft techniques of repoussé and damascene. Making of fashion jewelry using a base metal studded with semi-precious stones has emerged as a new craft to cater to present day demands.

Sand-cast technique is used for making solid brass objects. Lost-wax method is used for better quality products such as objects used for religious purposes such as sprinklers, spouted vessels, goblets, pitchers etc. Brass carving using sheet brass is a post-WWII technique to cater to the tourist demands for inexpensive souvenirs. Nowadays, brass is used to make railings at Buddhist temples. Oxidized brass work has a demand in the export market.

Craftspersons from traditional smiths’ villages of Hataraliyadda, Kolabissa, and Nilawala are famous for silver filigree works. Best brass workers are concentrated in villages of Kiriwavula, Gadaladeniya, Pamunuwa, and at the craftsperson’s housing estate of Kalapuraya at Nattarampotha.