Every three years the William Penn Charter School, a Friends school, hosts an exhibition showcasing artists and craftspeople within a radius of Philadelphia. For some of us with only passing experience with Quaker values: They encompass a set of testimonials or principles. Key among them are peace, integrity, equality, simplicity, community, and care for the earth.
As a recent transplant to the Philadelphia area, I was delighted to be invited to submit a few of Textiil’s batiks along with a statement linking the textiles to the theme of “Simplicity.” So I chose two natural dye block batik tablecloths to display and offered this explanation:
Pared down to the essentials, traditional wax resist batik is made by hand using copper tjaps dipped in wax to create pattern on cloth. The cloth is submerged in dye to take on color. Then the wax is boiled out and both the color and pattern are fixed.
There is simplicity in the transparent relationship to, and respect for, the natural world -- through pattern, materials and processes -- as reflected in these cloths. At the same time, there is a liveliness in the relationship between the surface expression of simplicity, and what lies just beneath. To start, I like that a single block print seems simple, but many together decorative.
The block, or tjap is made of copper and is held by hand, dipped in wax, and used for years in countless repetitions, informing cloth with pattern. The cloth is made of cotton. It retains the ghost smell of wax through a few washings and then disappears. The dye is made by fermenting leaves, or boiling out color from parts of plants and trees. These materials are familiar to us. And there is clarity, not complication, in the process: No machines, no chemicals – but still interactions and reactions. Also invisible is a deep understanding of the process: Proper proportions, temperatures, timing; a trained hand and a trained eye. All of these are necessary.
I like that the work looks consistent, but on closer inspection something will reveal itself – in the dye, or pattern, or fabric – and it will be certain that this cloth is truly made by hand.
And now the two textiles, designed here and crafted in Jogjakarta, Indonesia are SOLD. It's ime for someone new to enjoy them in their own way. In addition to the artist who now owns these batiks, many more people took the time to say how happy they were to see them at the entrance to the show, and how beautiful they looked.
And I will tell my partner in Indonesia about this art exhibition with the theme of Simplicity -- as best I am able. And in a strange reversal, I see what a perfect fit these batiks were for a show theme based on a principle from a value system seemingly so different on the surface, but fundamentally very similar to his own. And I hope he will join me for just a moment to consider our work together -- the complexity and the simplicity; the interactions and the reactions. And to appreciate the many people who shared in the simple pleasure of seeing our cloth.