Sunday, May 30, 2010

Live an Artful Life, Attend a Lecture

Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka of Artisan Batiks, a division of Robert Kaufman Fabrics

Some of my friends think I need to have my head examined, and frankly sometimes I agree with them. One of the more impulsive, (and interesting) things I have done in the past few months is to volunteer to be the Ohio representative for SAQA. Those of you in the know recognize this as the moniker for Studio Art Quilt Associates. In my quest to pursue life as a real, honest to goodness artist I joined this organization because its goal is to promote quilts as art and to promote textile artists, too.

Michael Mrowka Explaining the Design and Production of His Line of Artist Batiks
A few months ago, the position of Ohio representative became vacant and a call went out by the powers that be to fill it. Well, I waited around for a couple of weeks, but darn it, no one volunteered. So, I sent off a little email and just like that, I was the new rep (wish other things were that easy). This is when my friends questioned my sanity, and frankly so did I at the time, but it has already been interesting and I have had the opportunity meet some fantastic SAQA members. It is in my capacity as SAQA Ohio rep that I had the privilege to attend a lecture and interview Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka, also SAQA Ohio members. The way I natter away on this blog, some of you may have the idea that I am an outgoing person. Well, I've learned to fake it when necessary, and interviewing Michael and Debra following their lecture was a real treat.

Michael Displaying the Use of his New Batik Stripes (I bet you thought you had to do a lot of strip piecing. Nope, just cut big triangles.)
This artistic couple started manufacturing their line of batiks in Java, an island in Indonesia, several years ago. It takes 200 weaving machines to provide them with enough cotton fabric to produce between one and two million yards of batiks a year. This represents about 600 new designs every 365 days. The fabric is handmade in the hot and humid weather of Java, which lies close to the equator. Oddly enough, this extreme environment helps to set the dyes. The company employs about 250 workers, and Michael and Debra have dedicated themselves to giving back to the people who provide the quilt world with such wonderful fabric. They have a free lunch for employees each day, and live, eat and attend ceremonial events with their staff, many of whom they consider family. They adopted a Javanese daughter a few years ago and figured prominently in her wedding last year. In addition, they built a water treatment facility in the plant, returning only purified water to the river.

Larger View of Quilt Featuring Striped Line of Batiks

Debra and Michael met in a bookstore, so it is no surprise that their love of reading has inspired them to open a lending library called Ganesa in the community, which has just achieved non-profit status. The pair explained that reading and libraries are not an inherent part of Javanese culture, so they have had to encourage patrons to read and actually make reading suggestions to individuals reluctant to borrow books. They indicated that many of the books are non-fiction titles that teach skills such as crafts, fish keeping or fashion. In order to raise money for Ganesa, the couple had many half yard samples of their cherished designs for sale at the event, and 100% of the proceeds went to benefit the library. I admit I came home with several pieces to add to my stash, it was for a good cause (justification number 127). After attending this lecture, I will no longer complain about the high price of batiks. Considering the intensive labor, extreme working conditions and handmade nature of the end product, they are a bargain at half the price!

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