Arts & their Stories
Dreaming of faraway places?
Palaces of Maharajas, hallways of the Italian Medici family, the Taj Mahal, the humble Village Hut, a British sheep farm, a Texas Hunting Ranch, the Amazon Rainforest,… Each Surrealz product has a story to tell… of wonderful places and people and lifestyles. We are truly invested in preserving magnificent art & crafts and their histories, and believe the products we sell are some of the best examples of the master artisans’ work. Some of these crafts and traditional ways of life are fading away due to lack of awareness, patronage or changes in lifestyles.
At Surrealz, you will find products involving specialist skills from different parts of the world, as we continue to explore new cultures, and the history behind the crafts. We’ve used years of experience to select items that have a rich cultural heritage and involve specialist skills, to perfect our signature product portfolio.
Learn more about the History of these Arts and how they are made…
The Story of Rajasthan’s Mother of Pearl and Bone Inlay Art
For many centuries, Mother of Pearl and Bone have been highly sought after materials. Given their beauty and malleability, these materials were often exquisitely painted and carved for decorating everything from jewellery to furniture, snuff and pill boxes.
The use of Mother of Pearl in decor dates back to more than 5,000 years, always associated with style, luxury and class. Bone in craft has taken various forms over the centuries from ivory to present day camel bone. The art of inlaid furniture using mother of pearl and bone emerged in Rajasthan, India in the 16th century, where these unique decor pieces were commissioned by Maharajas (kings). One can see exquisite, artistic pieces in the palaces of Rajasthan as well as museums around the world.
If you’ve come across a mother of pearl or bone inlaid item, you would already know that there is nothing else quite like this art. The unique beauty and extraordinary attention to detail in the workmanship of these items are far beyond any furniture you may have seen.
A modern take on a Mother of Pearl Inlaid Sideboard
Elaborate Baroque style Bone Inlaid Sideboard
You will find our furniture matches the detail and craftsmanship of the pieces crafted in the same tradition over 500 years ago that adorn famous palaces across India.
The meticulous process involves a team of craftspeople several weeks to create this art work as hundreds of individual pieces of mother of pearl or bone are skilfully cut, polished and then inlayed into the coloured resin on a wooden frame – to create a lovely iridescent mosaic that trails around the furniture. The naturally varied tones and highlights make each piece unique.
The wooden frame and drawers are built first with durable and sustainable sheesham or mango wood by our expert wood-carvers. A backing made of MDF board is applied to the frame to prevent warping.
Our expert artisans carve and polish each bone or mother of pearl piece using traditional techniques to create the delicate shapes. The master craftsmen then lays out the pieces on the frame in the chosen pattern. A single piece of furniture comprises hundreds of these individually carved pieces.
A coloured resin is prepared using hand-mixed dyes. This resin will form the coloured background and is poured thickly over the inlaid pattern and left to harden. The excess resin is then carefully sanded to reveal the inlaid pattern underneath. The inside of the frames and drawers are painted to create the finished product.
All materials used in Surrealz pieces are sourced sustainably. Mother-of-pearl is the common name used for shells of oysters and molluscs. The inside of the shells are coated with iridescent nacre – a blend of minerals secreted by the animals to protect from parasites and foreign objects.
Camels are found in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. The bone used in our furniture is cruelty-free and sustainable. They are sourced from camels, as a by-product of the meat industry or animals that have died a natural death.
We use the finest materials for our products. These are not cheap, but may be just the splurge you need to create a distinctive statement. Add a little bit of character with an accent art piece or go all out for a stunning showstopper.
The Story of Marble Pietra Dura Art – from Italy to the World
Marble Pietra Dura art originated in Rome during the 15th century. The art became popular in Florence and was developed further during the 16th century under the patronage of the Medici family. The Grand Duke Ferdinando I Medici of Tuscany founded the Galleria di’Lavori (Opificio delle pietre dure) in Florence 1588 to develop pietra dura and other decorative art forms. The art spread across Europe, to Persia and South-East Asia. In India during the Mughal era, the art form was re-envisioned as ‘parchin kari’, which is exquisitely and famously represented in the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Today, one can witness the amazing art and craft work in famous museums in Florence (Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure), London (Victoria & Albert Museum), New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and palaces across India and the Middle-East.
Pietra dura is a highly specialised art form and involves intricate carving and inlay of stones (mostly semi-precious) in various colours on a marble base.
Once a design is finalised, the master craftsman carefully selects a suitable marble base and engraves the pattern with careful carving.
Semi-precious stones for the inlay work are handpicked, with special emphasis on colours and various shades to give the right gradation and shading to motifs.
Each piece of stone is individually hand carved and polished using traditional techniques.
A table top may have over 6,000 pieces of such carved stones. The stones are inlaid into the marble base using specialised glue. This creates an image in stone, similar to marquetry. No paint or colour is used and the image is made entirely of inlaid stones with their natural colours. After the stones are set in place, the piece is polished to a rich lustre. The naturally varied tones and highlights make each piece unique. It takes months for a craftsperson to meticulously create one table.
Note that pietra dura art is different from architectural works, which involve setting larger pieces of stones for floors and wall panels.
Today pietra dura products are made by few craftsmen around the world. In Italy, it is mostly for museum restoration. Given the intense and specialised nature of the craft, few master craftsmen dedicated to the profession remain. One artisan cluster is based in Agra, where the skill is handed down generations in families of those who created the artwork in the Taj Mahal.
We use high quality ‘makrana’ white marble, again, the same that has been used in the Taj Mahal, and genuine semi-precious stones. This means that you will have an artwork that matches the tradition and craftsmanship of works made more than 500 years ago that adorn palaces and museums today. Each piece undergoes a number of quality checks at our workshops to ensure that the inlay work matches the highest standards.
Semi precious stones have always added a beautiful and luxurious look to interiors owing to their beauty, exotic and rare nature. The variety of colours and patterns found in a stone allow for a broad palette of possibilities and shading. The selection of stones is done as per the requirements of the design pattern and to add value to the inlay artwork. Sometimes a heat treatment is applied to particular stone to get a shaded effect, e.g. heating Jaisalmer, which is a yellow stone to get a red colour.
We use a selection of natural stones for a wide range of colours, covering genuine semi-precious stones, marble, sandstone, etc.
|Marble from India||such as|
|Bidasar – a natural marble found in Rajasthan, India. It ranges from yellow, brown to green in colour and is valued for its beauty, strength and resistance to fire and erosion.|
|Other marble variations|
|Sandstones from India and the United States||such as Cobra stone|
|Lime stones from India||such as|
|Jaisalmer stone (yellow-natural, red-heated)|
|Semi-precious stones, such as|
|Agate in natural and dyed shades from Germany, United States and India||Agate are semi-precious stones that come in a range of colours. They can be bright, multi-coloured stones with concentric bands/stripes that create interesting patterns. It is one of the ancient stones used for hand-carved artwork. Agate is prized for its hardness, and ability to maintain its polish. Therefore, it is becoming a popular material for tabletops.|
|Amazonite from the United States||Amazonite is a feldspar that is minty green in colour. The blue-green colour comes from lead and water in the mineral.|
|Amethyst from Brazil and United States||Amethyst is a semi-precious stone used in jewellery, fashion and craft. It is a quartz that comes in beautiful shades of pinkish violet to deep purple. It was popular amongst the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.|
|Abalone, Paua or Ormer shell from New Zealand||Abalone is a shell and not a mineral. The shell is a by-product of the food industry. Paua (Haliotis Iris) is a member of the abalone family, native and unique to the waters of the New Zealand coastline. The shell is highly iridescent and the colour varies from greens and pinks to purples and blues and even gold or crimson tones. The vibrant changing rainbows are completely natural.|
|Aventurine from Brazil and India||Aventurine is a form of quartz, that is common in shades of green or yellow, and is generally translucent, with a shimmering qualitycaled aventurescence.|
|Onyx from China and India||Onyx ranges in almost every colour, although black and white are most common. It is s tone used for carving and artwork since ancient times in Egypt, Greece and Rome.|
|Carnelian or Cornelian from Brazil and India||Carnelian semi-precious stone that ranges from orange to blackish-red and has translucent properties. It was widely used by the Romans in jewellery and artwork.|
|Tiger Eye from Africa and India||Tiger’s eye comes in golden to red-brown colour, with a silky lustre. They have a luminous streak that is compared to the sheen in a spool of silk. The band of light moves across the stone as you gently rotate it.|
|Coral from Italy and Japan||Coral is not a mined stone but an organic gemstone available in saltwater, tropical environments. It ranges in colour from red, scarlet, saffron, pink to vermillion red and white. Due to it’s intense colour and glossiness, coral has been in jewellery, fashion and artwork since ancient times.|
|Jade from China and Canada||Jade has been traditionally used for hardstone carving and has been used since ancient times in South-East Asia. It comes in shades of green to pink. The Jain temple of Kolanpak in Andhra Pradesh, India houses the largest sculpture made from a single jade rock in the world – a 5-foot (1.5 m) high sculpture of Mahavira.|
|Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan||Lapis Lazuli is a gemstone that has been mined since the 7th millennium BC. It is prized for its deep blue colour with golden inclusions of pyrites which shimmer like little stars. In Europe, it was powdered to create ultramarine, the most expensive blue pigment used in paintings and artwork.|
|Malachite from Russia and Africa||Malachite, also known as the ‘Peacock Stone’ varies from light to dark green, translucent or opaque, sometimes banded and sparkling. It was used to create green pigments for painting and artwork. It is a popular stone for decorative objects that can be found in palaces and museums today.|
|Mother of Pearl from China||Mother of pearl is an organic material found in shells of molluscs. It is the same material found on the outer surface of pearls. Given its strong, resilient and iridescent properties, mother of pearl finds many uses in decorative objects, fashion and artwork.|
|Jasper from India||Jasper is an opaque and fine grained stone usually yellow, brown or red in colour. Various mineral inclusions gives it colourful bands and patterns. It can be highly polished, which allows it to be used in ornaments and decorative items. The most commonly used ones are Red Jasper, Yellow Jasper and White Jasper.|
|Ruby from Sri Lanka and India||Ruby is a pink to deep red coloured gemstone used in jewellery. The quality can vary depending on colour.|
|Rhodonite from Australia and United States||Rhodonite is a rose-red coloured stone with characteristic black streaks. It used in ornamental objects and hard stone carving.|
|Serpentine from India||A yellow to green coloured semi-precious stone used in ornamental carvings has been in use by the Maori in New Zealand, Romans and Indian.|
|Turquoise from Tibet and United States||Turquoise is amongst the oldest gemstones known and mined, worn by Pharaohs and Aztec kings and in fashion and crafts of today. Ranging from blue to green, turquoise can be difficult to source. Most turquoise available in the market today have been treated to enhance it’s colour and durability.|
|Yellow Amber from Burma and Poland||Amber is a fossilised tree resin and assigned gemstone status. It finds many uses in ornamental objects, jewellery to smoking pipes.|
We hope you will prize the beauty and value of your marble pietra dura product, the natural materials and craftsmanship, as well as an investment piece.
The Story of Agate
Agate is a banded form of finely-grained, translucent, microcrystalline Quartz. Agates can have many distinctive styles and patterns given its lovely colours and banding patterns on a translucent base. Therefore, unlike other gemstones, each Agate is unique, with no two Agate slices being the same… even when slabs are cut from the same specimen.
Agates naturally develops when a cavity inside a host rock fills in with layers of microcrystals in concentric bands or other patterns. The colours and arrangement of the microcrystals are influenced by changes in pressure, temperature, and mineral content during the process.
The bands sometimes look like eyes, stylised scallops, lace, and even landscape with trees.
Colours can range from White, Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Orange, Brown, Pink, Purple, Gray, Black to multi-coloured. As a material, Agate is also easy to dye, making the creative options endless.
Deposits where Agates are commercially mined are widely available, thereby making this gemstone relatively affordable. However, pricing and value can rise quickly with fine and sharp banded patterns and strong, natural colouring. Specific Agate localities demonstrate similarities in banding style, colour and patterns, thereby lending many Agates to be classified by pattern and region. Primary mining centres are Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Poland, India, Australia, Botswana, and the US.
Agate was highly valued as a talisman during ancient times across Europe and Persia, and was attributed with properties to quench thirst, protect against illness and divert storms. Collecting Agate bowls was common amongst the Royalty – from ancient times in the collection of thousands of agate bowls accumulated by Mithridates, King of Pontus, during the Byzantine Empire and in the Renaissance period. Museums across Europe, including the Louvre in Paris, V&A in London have spectacular collections.
During late 1400’s, Germany emerged as a mining centre of Agate in the Nahe River valley, giving rise to the cutting and polishing centre at two small villages – Idar and Oberstein. Local craftsmen excelled at this art; driven by the demand for agate ornaments, master cameo carvers, artisans and lapidaries flourished.
With the discovery of huge Agate deposits in Brazil in the 1800’s and as the Nahe agate deposit was exhausted, the artisans started to explore and import various gemstones. Adept at the craft over several generations, they focused more on cutting and polishing. Soon the region became an important gemstone centre. Today, Idar-Oberstein is still known as the world centre for the finest agate carving, and it also imports a range of gemstones from around the world, which are then cut, carved and exported.
Agate finds many applications cut into slabs, animal carvings, book ends, small statues, knife handles, pins, snuff boxes, bowls, and so on. Used in jewellery, it is cut and polished into cabochons, beads, also carved into cameos and the like.
Agate makes an exquisite ornamental stone, and in recent times it has taken up the design world with ornate furniture and architectural pieces.
Agate slices are fused together to form sheets/slabs. The slabs come in varying thicknesses. Dyed blue is a popular, but agate can come in a range of colours and sizes. A skilled artisan is required to match each slab surface to create a seamless look.
Given its translucent properties, agate slabs are now used with modern backlit LED to create one-off, extraordinary décor elements. The light shines through the dense stone creating a unique play of light, texture and depth and variations of the colours of the stone.
Used in small accents or as all-out showstoppers, the possibilities of working with Agate are endless.
Create statement pieces such as fireplace surrounds, entire stone wall features, stunning kitchen tops, kitchen islands, bar tables, splashbacks, shower walls, furniture and architectural features.
These make a distinctive style statement, while adding beauty and investment value to your home.
The Story of Makrana Marble Sculpture Art
Marble has a long history and tradition of great artworks from ancient times. The Greeks were recognised to be the forerunners in creating masterworks in marble. Rome is strewn with stunning marble sculptures, fountains in streets, piazzas, churches, museums, mansions, and more. Great masters from Bernini, Michelangelo to Rodin and present day sculptors favour marble over other stones.
You would already be familiar with marble and know that there is nothing else quite like it. There is an amazing elegance and beauty in the material with its white translucent purity. Yet it is strong and hard, and the sculptor works on it for weeks to bring out the shapes hidden within it.
Our marble statues are made of ‘Makrana marble’ mined in India. This is a high quality marble used in sculpture and prized for its purity, translucence, colour and strength.
At Surrealz, we work with master sculptors directly who carve marble sculptures, either from existing designs or from custom requirements. Our Marble Buddha sculptures are popular in various ‘mudras’ or hand postures, and make great garden art pieces.
Your marble sculpture will have a story to tell from the quarries it is mined, to the relationship it shares with iconic monuments, the craftsmanship of skilled artisans, the beauty of the sculpture itself and the message it communicates. The sculpture imparts some of its characteristics to its surroundings, adding personality to the space and reflecting a refined taste in art and decor.
The Story of Axis Deer Hides
The Axis deer (or Spotted deer or Chital deer) is often considered to be the most beautiful of deer, with a striking reddish-brown coat, marked with rows of white spots along the side of the body. The under-parts of the body are white. The deer retains its white spots throughout its life.
Axis deer skins are highly prized as exotic hides for their striking coat. Used as accent pieces, axis deer hides add an understated touch of luxury to any space. The finest and largest ones are rare and there is usually a large backlog of orders for the best hides.
Axis deer are native to India and commonly inhabit wooded regions of the Indian subcontinent. They were introduced to the Hawaii islands in the 1860s and the Texas hill country in the 1930s. They are sturdy deer that thrive in the Texas climate and land that is similar to India.
As the Axis deer grew in numbers, they began to destroy crops planted for domestic livestock, drove the native white-tailed deer away and became a nuisance to farmers. Therefore, their numbers are controlled now with hunting.
Axis deers are listed by the IUCN as Least Concern “because it occurs over a very wide range within which there are many large populations.” The Axis deer are not harvested for their hides. They are primarily harvested for their venison, which is considered to be amongst the best tasting wild game meats. Hides are just a by-product of the process.
We source our Axis deer hides from the US. Our supplier is licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. All hides are declared and inspected for export from the US and import into the UK.
Highly versatile in use, Axis deer hide rugs can be hung up on walls, used as rugs, throws on sofas and coffee tables, or used to upholster furniture.
We select the finest quality hides, which are as perfect in quality as is possible for a wild animal. The hides are natural and come from truly wild animals; and since everything in the wild either pokes, sticks or scratches you, these imperfections tell the story of the life of the animal in the wild. But, we don’t sell any junk hides and our quality is set at the highest standards. We sell hides of two grades:
- Grade-A hides are the finest hides and specifically tanned for high-end furniture. These hides are few and far between (being truly wild animals) and we usually have back orders for them from furniture manufacturers. These hides sell very fast and we often get very large orders for these hides.
- Grade-B hides are ideal for throws on sofas, coffee table decorations, wall hangings or floor accent pieces. As natural hides from truly wild animals, these hides have minor imperfections, which add to the character and story of piece. Having said that we do not sell junk hides, and each hide is graded and measured and undergo the same professional tan as a grade-A hide.
An imperfection can be a scratch, scrape, fighting scar, bullet hole, small hole from the tanning process or small bald spot. But, we don’t sell any junk hides with large areas of missing hair, or huge holes or stitched patches.
As with any animal hide, Axis deer hides need to undergo high quality professional tanning. Working with ranches in Texas, all Surrealz hides undergo Grade-A tanning processes, so you can enjoy them for many years to come
Story of Icelandic Sheepskin
Icelandic Sheep are amongst the oldest, purest breeds of domestic sheep in the world. Their fleece is long-haired, soft and strikingly lustrous, making it one of the most luxurious and sought-after sheepskins.
Origins – Originally from northern Europe, Icelandic sheep were introduced in Iceland by the Vikings, and have been bred for a thousand years. Icelandic sheep are born in the wild and roam freely in Iceland’s landscape.
The fleece/wool texture has evolved over centuries of adaptation to the harsh Icelandic climate.
Despite adapting to keep out the harsh cold temperatures and rain, the fleece is surprisingly lightweight as air is trapped within the fibres. The Icelandic fleece is dual-coated fleece, i.e., it’s made up of two layers, which gives the wool its striking appearance and beautiful feel.
The longer, outer coat (called tog) is water-resistant and used to protect from the harsh cold. This long and silky layer has a fluffy texture and good lustre.
The shorter, inner coat (called thel) makes the fleece extremely warming. It’s of, dense and fine inner fibres feel incredibly soft and luxurious.
Icelandic sheepskins can have some incredible colours and markings. The most dominant colour is all over white, but they can also come in ranges of browns, greys, blacks, honey colourings. Some coats have dark roots with light tips, others have light roots with dark tips. The white sheepskins are good for dyed colours.
Story of Merino Sheepskin
Merino sheepskin is considered to have the finest, softest quality of all sheepskins. Their dense, soft pile makes them prized for their wool, and ideal for the clothing industry.
The Merino sheep has had a long history across continents. In Spain, during the 13th-14th centuries, English breeds were bred with the local breed introduced from Asia, to create the first Merino. It was later introduced to France, where the breed was further developed with English long-wool genes. Over the years, the breed was introduced across Europe, Australia and America. The vast majority of merino sheep are raised in the mountainous regions of Australia and New Zealand. Today, there are more than ten different varieties of merino sheep worldwide. Some well-known breeds include Australian, Peppin, Saxony, Rambouillet, Vermount and South African.
Several properties contribute to the merino’s popularity.
- The fleece is excellent at regulating body temperature – the wool provides warmth, without overheating the user.
- Merino is amongst the softest types of wool, because of its fine fibres and small scales.
- Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, because the smaller fibres have microscopic cortices of dead air, which provides insulation.
Merino sheepskins come in a wide variety of colours, and are suitable for dying.
Best Uses of Sheepskin
Cosy, snuggly and stylish, sheepskin rugs are an ideal way to add cosiness and texture to any interior. They can be used as luxurious floor coverings, throws or draped on seats to create a great accent. Sheepskin rugs are extremely comfy and can be used to soften the look of a room or create snug zones.
Given the springy supportiveness of the fleece, it helps prevent pressure sores for less mobile people who sit or lie down for long periods of time.
Very versatile, sheepskins are great as bedding and rugs, to line baby prams, car seats, as well as base of tents while camping – given their cushioning and temperature regulating properties.
- Sheep wool contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties, resulting in reduced human body odour.
- Wool draws moisture/sweat away from the skin by a phenomenon called wicking, which results in a comfortable rug, both in warm or cold conditions. It fibres are also slightly moisture repellent, thus helping to avoid the feeling of wetness.
- Despite absorbing water, wool retains warmth when wet, thus helping wearers avoid hypothermia after sweating from strenuous exercise or getting rained on when outside.
At Surrealz, we advocate buying sheepskins from regions who do it best, such as Australia, New Zealand, and some Northern European countries. Sheepskins are available in many countries, but these specific regions not only have the preferred climate, they also have some of the best tanneries in the world. Professional tanning is the foremost quality to look for when buying any animal hide.
We hope you will appreciate the quality of the Surrealz sheepskins and enjoy it for many years to come.
The Story of Bengal’s Kantha Embroidery Art
Surrealz’s Kantha art represents the collective effort of artists in Bengal (West Bengal in India and Bangladesh). We work with local charities and artisan groups that help generate a livelihood for women in rural parts of Bengal, leveraging a talent they possess. It helps to economically empower the women, their families and their villages, as entire communities are engaged in this art & craft.
Kantha making is a ritual activity immersed in rich cultural traditions, handed down generations of Bengali women… it is anchored to their daily life.
For generations, kantha is a sentimental object with deep human connections – a woman would stitch kanthas for the ones they love. At her marriage, a girl receives an intricately-worked kantha that her mother has worked for years. Newborns are welcomed with soft kantha wraps from relatives, neighbours and family friends. Guests are offered kantha seating mats as a gesture of welcome. Kanthas make a lovely gift with a personalised touch.
Embroidered on silk, the simple running stitches in artful variations of intricate patterns create the kantha’s distinctive textured, wavy appearance. Each kantha is an exquisite, one-of-a-kind creation and the patterns tell a story. Immersed in folk beliefs, they display a rich vocabulary of motifs that reveal tales of the day-to-day life of a community, cultural, religious and social beliefs, and the artist’s own self expression. Yet the most spontaneous kantha is always practical in its use.
A well-made kantha is rare and takes a long time to create… they cannot be mass-produced on a commercial scale. The issue is not of demand, but that of supply. The creation process is part of a leisurely activity by women, after completing the day’s chores, sometimes sitting in groups as they chat in the evening. Each kantha, depending on its purpose and detail is carefully worked upon over weeks, months and sometimes years. A king size bedspread can take 6 months to create.
Traditionally, kanthas are used as coverlets, bedspreads, baby blankets, and rugs for seating guests. In modern times, they’ve become popular in the fashion industry as an embroidery form, leading to stunning silk scarves and dresses.
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At Surrealz, we are passionate about art, histories of places and people and take pride in our authentic pieces. Each product has a story to tell, and are designed to the highest specifications, using traditional methods, meticulously crafted by professionals who have spent over 25 years in perfecting their skills, and choosing only the finest materials.
Tell us about what you are looking for to create your own inspiring interior and we will customise our products for you, matched to your unique taste and lifestyle – drawing from our passion for these arts and knowledge of their cultural histories and significance. That’s the beauty of handmade bespoke products. You can get what you want.
Feel free to ask questions or book a meeting. It’s free with no obligation to buy and no hidden agenda. We are on a mission to save great craftsmanship and love to share our passion.
You can reach us by:
- Completing the Contact Form on this website
- Sending an email to Contact@surrealz.com
- Calling us at +44 7440034383
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The Surrealz Team