Thursday, November 16, 2006

LIfe Story #5

A long time ago when I was living in a land of artists and spiritualists and peaceful people with violent rivers inside their souls (Indonesia) I took a batik course at the Palace grounds in Jogjakarta. I was taught privately by an old man who was as small as a goat and as brown as a coconut. He was always patient and smiling through his many missing teeth. He also taught batik to a class of young Balinese men, who were the real artists and devoted their lives to the medium, in early afternoons. I have had no formal artistic training ( unless you count the elementary teacher's art class I took in college many years ago), so his patience with me as I practiced in this very unusual medium was amazing. Of course he probably saw me as this rich, idle, American who helped him put rice on his table. I was too young to see myself in that way and I was also tutoring American children half days and desperately needed this artistic break.

In my memories I can visualize driving down a street toward the Palace past the Chinese men who cut hair and trimmed toenails at their stands on the narrow sidewalk.

My work would take place in a small room with bamboo walls and a dusty floor. It was so dark inside that I can remember looking through the spaces in the bamboo and seeing the lady who sold birds in cages on the sidewalk outside. The smell of the pine resin that was added to the wax was pleasantly welcoming when I arrived each afternoon. The dyes were strong and we washed the fabrics carefully in very hot water over a ditch outside behind the building. I purchased all the chanting tools, bowls and kerosine stove and was fascinated with the shapes and rustic metals of each one. I bought large blocks of wax and small blocks of pine resin and would melt them together for the correct mix. The dyes would come as fine powders in small plastic bags and I could not really tell the exact color I would get until I dyed the fabric.

At first all I did was try to copy the batik patterns I saw in the fabrics around me each day. Then I decided to try something original. The batik above was one of the very first pieces I did. It took quite a while between the washing out of wax and the application of each new layer of wax for the new phase of dye.

The subject appeared from nowhere into my head. Since I am allergic to cats I am not really fond of them, and I don't really know where the idea of this brown cat came from. I made him guilty, so I guess my lack of love for cats shows. I did a lot of needlework at one time and that was added. I also fell in love with a maidenhair fern that was growing on the wall behind my house in Jogja. All of these were added into my piece.

This batik has sat for decades folded in a box. My powderoom (with the famous sink) in the new house happens to go with these colors, so I spent a small fortune at Michaels getting it matted and framed. I have an Egyptian parchment cat that I framed to go on the opposing wall. No, the powderroom is not that big, and the batik just fits on wall, but that is the only room where it seems to fit in color.

The young woman who matted and framed it at the store kept praising it and several other patrons in the store also said it was a very nice work. I never thought about it much, but now I guess I can share it with you.


  1. That is really, really nice! Did it take a long time? Seems have to do each color seperately, right? I have a pair of batik pants from Scotland of all places...they're wonderful and I've thought of ordering mire. If you google Skye batik (I think) you should be able to find their site.
    You should be proud of that print, shouldn't have hid it for all that time!

  2. Anonymous11:28 AM

    nice blog!

  3. Absolutely great! I took an art class in college where we did Batik, I had forgotten about it, thank you for reminding me.

  4. Beautiful colors. Have not heard of this art form before. Interesting.

  5. Carina, as I remember it did take quite a few months. The hard part is thinking backwards. Like where you do NOT want the color to go. The dyes are also toxic and environmentally unfriendly and that is why I have hesitated to do it here in America. I will have to get environmetally friendly dyes.

  6. It is very nice - I love the color choices you made. Funny what we discover about our artistic selves when we muster up the courage to show our work to others.

  7. Well told. It reminds me of my candle makind days. I made them just to see how they would turn out. And we once dyed tshirts using beets and tumeric for a homeschooling project.

  8. Lovely batik Tabor. You will love having it framed and hanging on your wall.

    I like the look on the cat's face and the composition and colors.

  9. Anonymous7:11 PM

    A beautiful story and outcome! ML of Full Fath.

  10. It's really a good piece, but the story around it is the keeper. I'm siting here smiling.

  11. It's really a good piece, but the story around it is the keeper. I'm siting here smiling.


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