Glass Charmer. Mosaic Whisperer. Lawful Rule Breaker. Designer of Wings. Teller of Tales.
The little squirrel saunters past the fig tree scaffold, stopping by to take a sniff at the peduncle, looking up inquisitively at the day’s visitors. Around the bend beyond the garden gate, the morning’s milk peeks out of a red post box, waiting patiently to be picked up. A plump purple fig plops to the ground as komorebi creeps in through the leaves.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree”, words from The Bell Jar echo in our heads allusively as we walk up the stairs to the charming Glasshopper studio, dreamed up by the kaleidoscopic stained glass designer and Unfactory collaborator, Saarus Nirhali.
Pinks. Purples. Yellows. Reds. Burnt Oranges. Teal Blues. Soft Lavender. Sunlight draws dizzying raxeira patterns on the floor, filtering through the myriad stained glass figurines tinkling softly in the breeze. We watch in awe as Saarus walks us through tablelands of tinted Tiffany glass slivers scattered about in a hundred thousand smouldering hues. Birds, butterflies, seagulls, dragonflies and angels in glass flutter by casually in pre-meditated spaces, unaffected by the clamorous eagerness of the intruders, and the mewing of the house cat.
It all started off as a fling, says Saarus, but not quite before the ring, when a few years ago, she tied the proverbial knot and moved to Bangalore from her erstwhile home in Bombay (Mumbai). A graduate of Criminal Law, she had just hung up her boots on an exclusory career, volunteering for Action Aid as prosecutor for first time offenders from small towns at the Nasik Central Prison and pursuing real-life crime investigations for a renowned public prosecutor.
Then out of the blue, little after she moved to garden city as a newly-wed bride, she got bitten by the creative bug. Quite a culpable offence for an ex-counsel, but presto, this newly awakened interest in original stained glass art struck a sense of wonderment in her. The following years she trained tirelessly under the able guidance of her mentor, 92-year old stained glass art veteran, Vinayak Patel.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
The tryst with Tiffany’s wasn’t just a breakfast rendezvous for Saarus. She had fallen in love with this original art form innovated by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 19th century American designer and celebrated leader of the Art Nouveau movement, revered for his stained glass lamps , vases, tiles, mosaics, windows, life size displays and other brilliant masterpieces, that adorn renowned museums, banks, hospitals, hotels and chapels worldwide.
Louis Tiffany, elucidates Saarus, revolutionized the art of stained glass. Born in New York as the son of Charles Tiffany, founder of the famous Tiffany and Company, he worked at several glasshouses in Brooklyn. When he was unable to convince fine glassmakers to make glass the way the way he envisioned, he began making his own. Tiffany used opalescent glass in a variety of colours and textures to create unique styles. He developed the “copper foil” technique, edging pieces of cut glass in copper foil and soldering them together to create spectacular showpieces – a level of detailing that was previously unknown. The rest, of course, is history.
Back to the Future:
In India today, Saarus is one of the very few craftpreneurs specialising in Tiffany style original stained glass and mosaic art. Working out of her exclusive Bangalore studio, Glasshopper, she custom designs commissioned pieces and unique originals – be it massive door panels for home or business, glass partitions, sparkly 2D Butterflies or 3D Birds as sun-catchers, charming garden accessories, trendy jewellery, corporate gifts in all sizes, tricky restoration projects, or stunning Tiffany styled glass lampshades.
“The churches in Goa and Kerala are perhaps the few spaces in which the stained glass art form currently survives in India, most of which crave a restoration. I am inspired perhaps by a creative desire… to not restrict stained glass to panels or murals, but to bring its force to everyday life by transferring it to daily objects.”
Saarus’ oeuvre has beautified homes, churches, workspaces, restaurants and stores across cities, and some of her finest pieces have found new homes out of the country. Her studio’s nifty name Glasshopper was deftly chosen by her husband Mayuresh. The sleek logo, a swashbuckling grasshopper, was stylised by her close friend, artist Debu Barwe, and handcrafted to perfection in stained glass by Saarus. Patina acid, copper foils, lead ‘n’ silver solder, lubricants, kerosene, grid lined mats, flux, glass cutters and grinding tools give the studio a sombre air, akin perhaps to a high-end chopper workshop. In whimsical contrast, radiant fine quality (and ridiculously expensive) US imported stained glass panes line the length of her work station, kiln-fired to perfection in over two hundred rainbow hues – and textures – spectrum, iridescent, crinkled, whispy, watery, swirly, baroque, peppermint, lollipop… many more.
When she is not busy with custom assignments, or preparing for sought-after shows, such as this year’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Saarus takes up masterful design projects in partnership with architects and interior design greats. She has collaborated with Merck, German makers of colour pigments for cars, has custom designed unique stained glass Xmas décor for The Olive Beach over two years, and her on-demand projects for Made In India at Banashankari, and the St. Andrew’s Church on Cubbon Road, are on display at the premises. She enjoys conducting stained glass and mosaic workshops (that penchant to teach has stayed with her through the years), at her studio in Bangalore. One of her most groovy collaborations in recent times has been The Fusion Projects – a foray into the world of designer stained glass jewellery with eminent artist Aarohi Singh (known as ArtbyAarohi). Their fabulous work-chemistry resulted in a first-of-its-kind series of stained glass earrings, pendants and more, with original art by Aarohi, and stained glass fashioned to a fine finish by Saarus.
A Tale of Many Cities:
Her love for revival and experimenting with unforeseen themes has taken Saarus places as remote as Chor Bazaar. The payoff? A charming Naksha Series of Vintage Map Pendants, incorporating rare original territories of India pre-partition, and quaint city maps of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Madikeri — for those yen moments when you experience saudade.
Spend a merry hour chatting with Saarus and you will come back dreamy eyed, treated to riveting tales…on the legendary glass blowers of Venice, of Lord Vittal whose car had golden wheels that got stolen overnight, of Augsburg Cathedral and Paris’ Saint Chapelle with stunning stained glass details, her itch to make a life-size stained glass dome, and of course, the inimitable world of Tiffany.
Oh, golly gee damn, life is gleeful indeed!