Oey Soe Tjoen started his workshop in 1925 in Kedungwuni, Pekalongan on the northern coast of Java. In 1999 I visited the workshop and met the director Muljadi Widjaya, son of Oey Soe Tjoen and the father of the current director, Widianti Widjaja. I recently had the opportunity to see 40 batik from the three generations of the family.
I hadn’t seen many Oey Soe Tjoen batik since that visit to Pak Widjaja in 1999, so I was happy to be invited to this one day exhibition of work that spanned the entire 80 year history of the workshop.
Widianti examines an Oey Soe Tjoen batik brought to the exhibition by a guest.
In the following photographs are three generation’s versions of one of the standard patterns offered by the workshop. Oey Soe Tjoen numbered many of the patterns so customers could easily order. The name of the village was always included, Kedungwuni.
First generation Oey Soe Tjoen:
Second generation, Oey Soe Tjoen:
Third generation Oey Soe Tjoen:
Detail from third generation batik above.
The lighting was not enough to get sharp photographs, but the following will give an idea of the breadth and creativity of the designs, and the subtlety of coloration.
It should be noted that the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop uses only the immersion method of coloring, even for the smallest most delicately colored areas. A much less labor intensive and less expensive method is to apply the colors individually to small areas by brush directly on the cloth.
A batik with a pure white background is a particularly difficult challenge. The slightest crack or pin hole in the wax could let in enough color to ruin the piece.
Widianti Widjaja still makes the tried and true old patterns of her ancestors, but she is also a designer in her own right and refuses to be let her own creativity be too limited by tradition.
The skill level of the wax application, always done with the tiniest canting that can be produced is what makes the batik of the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop still some of the best in Pekalongan.
Widianti sometimes makes reproductions of antique designs from other eras such as this dongeng batik, telling the story of little red riding hood.
Here is a tree of life design by Widianti, a commission for a customer.
Another Islamic inspired design by Widianti.
Detail from a batik with a Chinese motif .
This is the sarung my friends bought during the visit to Oey Soe Tjoen workshop in 1999.
I don’t know what the stamped BF mean.
Oey Soe Tjoen perfected a sequence of waxings and dye baths that gave a unique three dimensional quality to the drawing.
This souvenir cloth was the most I could afford in 1999 on that visit. It’s about 20×20″
Typical of a certain period in the second generation of production is the addition of Java added to Kedungwuni the village. Notice the subtle use of over dyeing in this example.
This detail demonstrates the precision and coordination of both the person applying the wax, and the person dyeing the cloth.