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Home » Arts & Culture, Glossary

On Bali’s Arts and Crafts  

by on Monday, 9 February 2009One Comment | 6,086 views

Balinese Wood Carving

There is probably no place in the world with such a high density of craftsmen and artisans in Bali. You name it and you can find it here woodcarving, stone carving, bone and ivory carving, silver and gold smiths, basket weavers, terra-cotta and ceramics- the list goes on forever. Here is a short list of some of the best things available and you can go to find them.

The first thing you should realize is that it is hardly worthwhile to travel up into some mountain village to single object, unless you see this as a form adventure. For the visitor on a limited schedule, a visit to one of the several galleries specializing in high quality traditional and antique arts such as the Four Seasons Gallery in Jimbaran is probably the best idea.

Here you will see the best art by the best artisans in an environment that will let you see them in the full glory. If you are still bent on finding it yourself, here are some tips:

Wood Carving

Traditional Balinese woodcarving has always been of religious subjects. In the 1930’s though a new type of carving developed in Mas near Ubud catering to the tourist market. Today, the best Balinese carving galleries are still there.

One of the oldest is the Ida Bagus Njana, Ida Bagus Tilem Gallery where you will still be able to see a number of carvings from the earlier period – these are not for sale. Quality is good and prices are sky high. If you search among a number of the less famous galleries in the area, you might be able to find a piece by the same carver for a fraction of what it would cost you in an expensive gallery.

Wood Carving

Remember too that if you come with a guide, most galleries will pay him a significant commission on your purchases. Another important area for woodcarving is on the road up to Sebatu. This is the region where most of the Antik Baru or new antiques are made. There are sometimes genuine old carvings to be found but not in these villages.

Dirt and brown shoe polish are cheap and if you want it to look beat up, they will be happy to oblige. The important thing is that you find something you like for a price you can afford, There are also numerous other Balinese standards like wooden banana trees, flowers and the type of things that might often be found at cheaper prices, when they are on sale at Cost Plus !

Remember to bargain! Also check out the enormous Garuda statues made in this area ever since the first President of Indonesia starting giving them away to foreign dignitaries as gifts.

Stone Carving

The preferred material for stone carving is known as volcanic tuff that resembles the color of cement when it is newly carved. Many visitors to Bali assume that they are cast, not hand made! To see the truth with your own eyes, go Visit the bend in the road in Batubulan which has long been touted as being the village of stone carvers.

There are several other places where stone carving takes place. You will find traditional Balinese statues albeit often sterile and a host of kreasi baru or new creations catering to the orders of those who came before you, including Balinese versions of angels, to busts of Beethoven.

Stone Carving

As large pieces of tuff are becoming difficult to find and expensive, smaller ones are often pounded up and mixed with cement to make blocks this are then carved. If the mixture is wrong, your sculpture might disintegrates when you get it back home. Moss and lichen loves to grow on tuff, so your statue might already be covered with it when you buy it.

Remember that stone is porous and that in especially cold climates could split in freezing weather. One should also know that many of the large statues of Hindu gods and goddesses carved in hard dark pitted stone are actually not from Bali, but from Java. The stone is andesite, the same material of which the Borobudur Temple was carved. It is very durable.

Unfortunately, few of the carvings, despite their size, display the grace or beauty of the originals they seek to replicate. Under no conditions, believe anyone who tells you that they have the original Borobudur head or statue for sale. These simply do not exist and if they did, they would be illegal.

Silver and Gold Smiths

The village of Celuk is now lined with galleries all selling silver ware. They are typical Balinese work using granulation and a process of attaching gold to the surface of silver. Today the industry is very sophisticated and includes everything from classical pieces to modem designs that you would not even guess were made in Bali.

The silver business has grown so large in the last few years that many of the smiths are Javanese working for Balinese bosses. Most of the silver that you will see in the galleries is also probably from Java. If you are looking for a good price, the farther you wander off from the main road, the lower the prices will be.

Silver and Gold Smiths

The price of silver should be detained by the weight and work. A fair price at the place of manufacture is around Rp 1000 per gram, though this is only a guideline and not a rule. Most silver is sterling. Be careful of vendors on the beach, though, who have been known to sell plate or the price of the real thing. As for gold, you will most probably have to order it. The only exceptions are the goldsmith shops of Denpasar catering to the Balinese themselves. Here you buy gold by weight.

Baskets

There are many types of woven baskets made of bamboo, rattan and other fibers. In the vicinity of Ubud, large baskets are woven of pandan leaves with designs resembling American Indian motifs, in Tenganan village, which is more famous for its geringsing, extremely fine and expensive baskets that are woven of a type of grass found growing on the banks of rivers.

Balinese Basket

There are also numerous other types of baskets such as those used to carry fighting cocks. Many of these can be found in the market of Denpasar. Two other popular types of baskets found in Bali are those from the island of Lombok to the east and fine rattan weaving from Borneo.

Other Arts and Crafts

These include wood Puppets, shadow Puppets, terra-cotta figurines, ceramic large pots from Lombok and Banten West Bomeo, primitive statues from the eastern islands, brass bowls bronze statues and other decorative items- Furniture has become very big business in recent years. With few exceptions, it all comes from Java and is made of teakwood.

The best is made of old recycled teakwood, which can be recognized by its rich deep color as opposed to young teak, which tends to be yellow. There are very few original pieces left anymore, so take a good look before you pay a Premium price for a married piece.

In furniture it is always, a good idea to look underneath and in the corners carefully, for it is there you will discover how well made or old the piece is. Remember that when you buy a few large pieces that the cost of shipping can be more than the buying price.

Balinese Painting

As for antiques, this is now a very flexible word in Indonesia and in Bali. Oftentimes, the best antiques are to be found among simple items that have never really caught the attention of those in search of more important pieces. Usually the longer the story about its origin, the more doubtful its authenticity.

There are numerous villages and people whose livelihood is based on making new things look old. Bronzes, for example, are treated in everything from battery acid to mildly corrosive leaves. Remember that just because something looks old and the seller seems to be a great guy who wants to give you the bargain of the century, it does not mean anything.

Like everything, the best advice is that if you love and can afford it, buy with no illusions. If you do not now what you are doing, then seek expert advice. You will probably save yourself a major headache. Shopping for art, artifacts and crafts is supposed to fun and Bali is one of the best places in the world to find something beautiful for yourself or somebody that you love.

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