It Takes Talent

PRIMITIVE - Friday, January 23, 2009
  Made J and reptile

We watched Made “J” mix color for stone. He was giving us a lesson in how to restore damaged pieces. He mixed peka, gambir, and tea in a bucket and added water – his own special mixture of exotic ingredients. The mixture turned plum purple.

He took a stone sphere and coated it two times. After the second application it turned brown, charcoal, green, and honey all at the same time. It was obvious this recipe was not made on a whim. It was created and perfected over time. There had probably been dozens of trials until the correct tones with highlights and twinges and tinges had been achieved. This was not an amateur’s achievement. It was the culmination of real artistic experience.

A master textile painter

The question now was how we were going to get this information as well as the ingredients home to our restoration department. Made J’s had set up this demonstration specifically as a favor to us, but his English was broken and although we appreciated his willingness to share a lifetime’s experience, he was difficult to understand. His son did his best to translate for us. He explained that the concoction needs to rest at least a day so that it can ferment and become strong. Frankly, we were still lost among the ingredients. His son said he will include instructions along with materials in our container. It’s our only hope to bring this secret to our restoration department.

We left Made J’s workshop and headed north to Mas. It wasn’t a far drive, but it was long enough for Glen to bow his head in the front seat and rest his eyes. He must run on a different battery. He is up later than Claudia and me every night writing e-mails, evaluating material, and talking back home. Occasionally, he’ll ask for a word with a question. One night he asked, “How would you feel if you passed up a Toraja panel and then a few years later realized that you couldn’t get one anymore?” Claudia answered in a second flat, “Haunting regret,” and me, “Disappointment.”

We understand what Glen means. Toraja house panels are becoming harder to find, not just at Primitive, but in Sulawesi The Torajans themselves are tearing their houses down in favor of more modern structures. When the buildings that are standing are finally weathered away by wind and rain, they will cease to exist. These house panels – in fact, all the architectural details from these houses - lead a life that will soon fade away. Glen does not hesitate to point this out. The value he places on artifacts increases when he knows that their time is limited, especially if they’re meritorious. where they originate.

Arriving in Mas, we see our other friend, another Made (naming is a peculiar thing in Bali), who makes tables. He has a sensitive approach to wood and produces works mainly in Suar wood, which is known for its beauty. Its grain swoops and swirls on the surface of the wood. Sometimes it looks like tie dye or a Doppler affect, but one particular table struck Glen as something different: “This table looks like a rib eye steak,” he said. It did. We bought it. It’s astonishing. I have never known wood to have so much soul. I suppose it makes sense. People relate to and feel so strongly about trees; why would a slab from one be so different? This is especially true for Made; he does not consider himself a carpenter, rather, an artist. The name of his workshop appropriately translates as “heart touching wood.”

We had dinner with Made and his wife. She is Japanese, and although she graduated with a Chemistry degree in Tokyo, she has become a well-known textile painter. She used to paint extraordinary kimonos exclusively, but several years ago the kimono market crashed in Japan. Now she is considering other types of textiles, and Glen and Claudia are exploring how to incorporate her talent into the business. We have bought other things from her before, mostly for ideas. Now, everyone wants to move forward by creating exclusive designs.

The couple brought along their youngest son, and we drove to a nearby Chinese restaurant. We passed food around a central tray which zoomed in circles. I was getting slightly drunk from the beer and the swirling tray appeared more vivid because of my altered state. I am not sure if the beer can also be held accountable for my quickness to view these strangers as friends. Perhaps it was the conversation, which was witty, insightful and enjoyable. When they dropped us off at the villa, Made’s wife gave me a hug, smiled, laughed and said, “I love you.” She looked as surprised as I felt. We continued to smile. “Thank you,” I replied, and bowed. Today has been filled with people who are not only extraordinarily talented, but beautiful. I’m sure whatever they produce in Primitive’s name will reflect this too.

Haunting regret