Reflections From A Long Time Admirer And Importer Of Fine Batiks
I first met Bill Royer as a child in Southeast Asia. Bill was enchanted with the hand crafts and skills found in batik making and basketry, carving, lacquer, farming, cooking, food, clothing and the many rural ceremonies centered around religion and seasons. For many years, Bill visited small batik making ateliers in Java, and imported contemporary batiks back to his marvelous, eclectic Brentwood Store, Imports East. My recent missives from conserving batik in Java inspired these reminiscences from him… and I’m pleased to say much has not changed. Read his message to me below.
Belated thanks for all your blogs… They reveal how very far you’ve reached since we first met you all those years ago back in Chiang Mai, and later Indonesia. Amazing how broad and deep is your experience and expertise in the textile universe, extending half way around the globe.
Your ‘becoming batik’ carries me back to my fascination with that intriguing way of applying color and life to plain white cloth. That intricately formed copper tjap carefully dipped in heated wax—at just the right temperature. Carefully lining up the margins. Thump, thump to coax the last drop into the thirsty cloth. Unhurried. Steady, like a metronome, without any appearance of effort. Just the flowing rhythm, going back through years of apprenticing—and tradition.
Oh yes, the sweet and smoky aromas in those dirt floor sheds. After swirling the wax-laden cloth in the dying vats, drying it over bamboo poles, scraping off the excess wax, then plunging the cloth into cauldrons of boiling water, more drying. Back to the waxers for another long round. And another.
I just had to figure out a way to organize and transport lots of this lively sweet smelling fabric back home and keep this threatened art form alive. Glad to hear that modernization has not yet pushed out the food and cigarette stall vendors you see everywhere. Have the little kitchen sheds at the back of the houses survived? I remember as clearly as last week food preparation beginning at first light’s cockcrow. Sound of pumped water tumbling into clanging empty pails. Kindling snapping as it heats up chunks of charcoaled wood. Sharp odor of new fire’s drifting smoke. Dogs scuffling, occasionally a quick little yip. Someone just lit a kretek (a clove cigarette). Little chicks peeping after their squabbling moms; other moms ordering little girls to their cooking and cleaning tasks. Joking and musical laughter…