For a Balinese Stone-Carver, a British Realization of His Talent
SINGAPADU, Bali ~ Stopping in London on the way back from a recent trip to the Isle of Man, the little island in the Irish Sea where my parents live, my husband, Ketut, was asked, “What did you do there?” to which he replied: “I spent six months in a shed.” Had he flown 8,000 miles only to be banished to the garden shed? I suppose it wasn’t far from the truth.
My husband is a stone carver from a stone-carving village in Singapadu, near Ubud. His brothers are stone carvers and his father and grandfather were carvers as are all his uncles, friends and cousins; so he never felt like there was anything extraordinary about what he does.
When I met him he even warned me about his “bad” job and said it was dirty, dusty and didn’t pay well. But the first time I saw him carving, I was gob-smacked. I’d never seen a carver working up close, and he seemed to carve with such speed and delicacy, it was captivating. I’d never met someone with such skill, who was so blind to it. I guess you might call it raw talent.
As many times as I told him he had skill unlike others, he never really believed me until we went to the UK in 2007 to visit my parents. Over three months he began to test out different types of stone, researching European and classical Greek and Roman styles, and ended up doing some beautiful carvings for friends and family. Everyone who saw him carve was astounded, and those who hadn’t seen him in action couldn’t believe the finished product was actually done by hand. For most people, stone carving is an archaic trade, made redundant by machines, but Ketut was able to show them the difference between a hand-carved piece of art and a machine-made reproduction.
They couldn’t believe the ease with which he could turn an ordinary chunk of stone into something with life and character. Perhaps this has something to do with the way Balinese carvers regard stone, which they very much see as a part of nature and something God has given us. Every piece of stone, and tool for that matter, has a soul and is treated with a great deal of respect.
On our return to the Isle of Man in 2008, word had spread and there were orders waiting, and stone piled up behind the house ready to be made into an array of beautiful things. So he set himself up in the garden shed and went to work.
British summers don’t have the best reputation for warmth, but one thing they have going for them is the light. In the Isle of Man the sunrise starts at around 4am and there is still daylight at 10:30pm. The shed would warm up during the day and stayed warm and light into the night. Ketut was happy to stay out there all day, iPod on, as long as I delivered coffee and chocolate croissants periodically, and kept a big pot of rice on the stove.
Most people wanted animals, wild as well as portraits of their pets, and as Ketut had never laid eyes on many of them, a Peregrine Falcon for instance, he had to do plenty of research and try to get out to observe the animals in the wild so he could see how they moved and acted. He even met some of the animals, like Billy the dog, who he was then able to capture with great accuracy, including his personality.
As the weather got colder and the days shorter, Ketut added more and more layers and more tea and coffee deliveries were necessary, but the orders kept rolling in.
Things got really challenging when the canon of the local cathedral came to ask Ketut to carve their coat of arms – Mary holding a tiny model of the cathedral in her hand. He had never been asked to carve anything like it before, so he was very excited. I did have to laugh when after the canon left I had to explain the woman he was to carve was actually Mary, mother of Jesus.
The canon was so pleased with the finished statue that he asked for a second, even more challenging piece, a reproduction in slate of a Viking carving of a crucifixion. Watching the juxtaposition of a Balinese Hindu carve Mary and a Viking crosses is quite a sight.
By this point we were heading into December and the working days were short. By 4:30pm there wasn’t enough light outside to carve, and not even long underwear, two pairs of hiking socks and thinsulate gloves could keep the cold out. It was time to start wrapping up for the holidays and have a well-earned rest. Orders were still coming, but six months in a shed is plenty for anyone – especially for someone so used to the freedom of working outdoors and in the warmth.
The trip was important for us as a family money-wise, but I think the real achievement of Ketut’s six-month stint in the shed was his own realization of how talented he is. He may still be very dismissive of people who praise his talent, but now I can see his confidence in his own work and a sense of pride he has with his finished pieces. He has had experiences that other carvers haven’t, which have shown him the possibilities of his skill. It is now setting him apart from carvers in Bali, who continue to copy and carve Buddhas and frogs wearing traditional dress.
Hannah Black can be contacted at email@example.com.Filed under: Perspective