OEY SOE TJOEN BATIK
-OEY SOE TJOEN BATIK-
KEDUNGWUNI near PEKALONGAN
The finest and most technically intricate examples of the batik process have been made on the north coast of Java in workshops operated by Peranakan Chinese. Some of the most notable examples of this type of batik have come from the workshop of Oey Soe Tjoen and his wife Kwee Nettie at Kedungwuni.
Batiks from the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop were and still are, often masterpieces and represent some of the finest and most technically elaborate examples in the history of batik.
We first visited the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop in Kedungwuni in May 2007. After much discussion with Oey Soe Tjoen's granddaughter and the third generation successor, Widianti Widjaja (Oey Kiem Lian), we purchased this extremely beautiful cloth from her (Satu sarung No. 31, tanahan soga - merah). Central to our discussions was the two generations of the Oey Soe Tjoen family who had preceded her in the workshop. We meet up with Widianti once again in 2011 when we visited her along with our dear friend Zahir Widadi. She discussed at length the central utilisation of tanahan by the workshop. She identified with her hand drawings, the five key tanahan designs utilised by the workshop as: pentoel, angkop, semanggen, pentoel limo, and cakar ayam. Widianti shared her enthusiastic passion and knowledge of batik so freely with us, rich memories indeed.
Harmen C. Veldhuisen writes: In 1925 he (Oey Soe Tjoen, Java, 1901 - 1975), married Kwee Tjoen Giok (Java, 1905 - 1996), a school teacher, whose parents also owned a workshop for stamped batiks, in nearby Batang. (Kwee assumed a European-style name, Nettie Kwee). Oey and Kwee started a workshop for hand-drawn batiks, for which both created designs and colour schemes, though they signed their designs individually: he as Oey Soe Tjoen Kedoengwoeni and she as Kwee Nettie Kedoengwoeni, inverting her name in the Chinese manner. (1)
With the passing of Oey Soe Tjoen in 1975, his son Muljadi Widjaya and his wife Istianti Setiono, ran the workshop along with his widow Kwee Nettie. Muljadi Widjaya and Istianti Setiono had three children. Their daughter Widianti Widjaja (b. 23/11/1976) was taught dyeing techniques by her father. Muljadi Widjaja passed away in 2002 with the business being carried on by his widow Istianti Setiono. Since 2006 the workshop has been run by the third generation of Oey's family, his granddaughter Widianti Widjaja.
Harmen C. Veldhuisen further writes: When they (Oey Soe Tjoen and his wife Kwee Nettie), determined that his batiks sold far better than hers, she decided to stop designing and devote herself to assisting him by assuming supervision of production. There is some doubt about this information because the batiks signed by Oey later on have far more in common with his wife's designs and the quality of her work than with the earlier batiks signed by him. The result of their collaboration was the best Peranakan-made batiks. While Oey started by imitating Lies van Zuylen's bouquets, he is the one who created a unique three-dimensional effect, which was perfectly copied by other Peranakan entrepreneurs. Even with a bouquet designed by Lies van Zuylen and copied, the batik is unmistakably a Oey Soe Tjoen based on the effect, obtained with rows of dots as filler motifs in the flowers and the diverse shades of each colour within a flower, as well as the colour scheme. Van Zuylen herself tried to imitate the effect after 1935 for a Peranakan customer but did not succeed. (2)
Under their joint leadership the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop reached its peak, employing at least 150 pembatiks (waxes) at any one time. In the 1920s and 1930s, the buket motif is produced on an extensive scale by Chinese-owned workshops. With the introduction of synthetic dyes , the colours become more vivid and assisted with the creation of brightly coloured batiks. With the application of these materials, batik-makers were able to achieve the bright colour combinations that had always been a prominent feature of the Chinese silk tradition. Peranakan Chinese and Eurasian batik both became famous for their remarkable range of colours, including shades of orange, pink, mauve, green and yellow. Colour has symbolic meaning in Asia. Amongst the Javanese-Chinese community, for example, turquoise-blue and coral-pink are the colours of happiness and prosperity.
Robyn Maxwell writes: Batik-makers overcame the problem of the large number of colours on a single batik by a simple technical adaption to the resist-dyeing technique. Small areas of the cloth were encircled and effectively dammed off by the wax-resist, enabling the batik-makers to apply the rainbow hues by a delicate process of hand-colouring or hand-painting. These technical innovations in no way diminished the quality of hand-drawn batik work. These workshops were renowned for their masterful refinement of the batik technique. The women employed to execute the patterns were trained in intricate and precise application of wax, and an extraordinarily delicate stippling and dotting technique was used, especially with some of the wonderfully ornate floral designs of certain batik producers. (3)
Java's Chinese-descended residents were the greatest users of coastal batik since at least the 19th century, which is why there are so many Peranakan Chinese involved in the trade. They appreciated the finest work and would almost do anything to have the very best in-house waxes. In the middle of the 19th century, they began to open their own batik businesses to produce batik in the European style, introducing, amongst others, the floral bouquet (the buket motif), made so famous by Mrs. Van Zuylen. They were noted for their attention to detail and a passion for perfection. A batik made by and for this community could never be mistaken for a traditional Javanese textile.
This beautiful sarung is made up of a large bouquet, repeated three times in the badan and once in the kepala. In the kepala to the top left of the bouquet a butterfly flutters it wings in flight and this is balanced by a bird in flight to the top right of the bouquet. The butterfly and bird motifs are repeated in the badan, butterfly - bird - butterfly - bird, on the same horizontal line as those in the kepala. Two butterflies and a central bird are also repeated in a small vertical space to the left of the kepala. These repeated elements are certainly central to the cloth's sense of harmony and continuity. Although the arrangement of the bouquets is rather stiff, the flowers themselves, embellished with the perfect three-dimensional shading for which Oey Soe Tjoen's designs are universally recognised for, certainly possess a wonderful fluidity. The bouquets are set against a ground filled with numerous small dots along with thriving and curling fern shoots in the tanahan style. The crowded filler motifs in the leaves were first created during the Japanese occupation, 1942 - 1945. The colours are made up of blues, shades of orange, pinks and cream.
Fusami Ito writes: The earlier works of the Oey workshop have simple isen and tanahan motifs aimed to enhance the main motif. As competition increased with a lot of imitations going around, the isen and tanahan became more and more complicated. Instead of employing the more traditional motifs of parang and kawung for the background, original designs measuring about 5mm or so were created, combined with arabesque or dotted patterns which required more and more refined wax-drawing technique. This is not unique to the Oey workshop . From the 1930s to the beginning of the WW2, Chinese workshops on the north coast unfolded a heated competition for sophistication in wax-drawn lines. As a result, waxing technique reached a high stage of perfection and the isen and tanahan motifs became multi-coloured, refined works of originality. (4)
(Detail 2). Highlighting the exceptional canting skills of the waxers where
both sides of the cloth are identically hand-waxed making it fully reversible.
(Detail 3). This very fine and beautiful cotton sarung bearing the characteristic
Oey Soe Tjoen signature
(top right hand corner of the head-panel),
demonstrates the superb technique that makes this workshop famous.
(Detail 4). Rens Heringa writes: After 1950 Oey adopted the town's modern spelling,
104 is not the number of the design, but the number of his house and workshop.
In the flowers there are parallel stippled lines of tiny white dots as isen pola which have been applied in a very painstaking manner. In every flower, the form of the stipple lines are different. The resulting effect is that the flowers look three-dimensional. Extremely fine isen pola are applied in the leaves which gives the effect of fern leaves. (5)
(Detail 5). The petals of the flowers are carefully shaded in the typical Kedungwuni way
with white dotting: the more dense the dots the lighter the colour becomes.