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Seth J Hersh
All of the textiles and artifacts displayed on this site were purchased by myself in the field.
The items are culturally authentic, in outstanding condition and high in visual value. They represent outstanding examples of their type - and at thispoint, represent the best of the best from a singular collection obtained during the period of 1970-80.
How Did I Get There
I was in NYC during the early 1970s, working as a drilling engineer in ARCO’s International Division. I wanted to travel, I had told ARCO, barely two years out of Mineral Engineering School at the University of Alabama. There were three of us in the group at the time (when oil was less than $3/barrel) - and I was the junior-est guy. One morning the #2 guy used my phone to interview a Canadian for a position in Indonesia. When they got off the phone, I said, “Why not send me?”. When I came back from lunch that day, I was offered a position to drill for oil in the Java Sea. Two weeks later I was on a Pan Am flight to Indonesia - and only then learned that Bali was part of Indonesia when our flight touched down briefly there on the way to Jakarta.
Oh, that Magic Feeling
I became fully intrigued with Indonesia’s weavings while rummaging through the many antique shops of Jakarta.Sumatra, Java, Bali, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, TImor …. what an extensive variety of expression within the textile arts. But the ikats from Sumba intrigued me most. Bold, graphic designs - and primitive in nature and technique.
When I quit my job in the mid-70s in Jakarta, I had six months left on my Indonesian residency visa - and I literally used every day (and then some) travelling through Java, Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores to get to Sumba. I learned Indonesian, I learned about myself - and I learned about the graciousness of the Indonesian peoples everywhere.
Sumba on My Mind
I walked all over Sumba in those early days. Its animistic culture appealed to my simple explanations for all things natural. I met a raja with an incredible collection of Chinese porcelain - and an equally impressive harem of beautiful Sumbanese women. I was told that I’d be good to eat by a “retired” Borneo cannibal. But the primitive grace of Sumbanese dancing affected me the most: the women would don the men’s blankets and as they moved like a gentle wind, the blankets would lift and flow to the soft, persistent drumming.
Life in the Big City
I lived in Jakarta during those early years, developing an export business of hand-made 22KT gold jewelry - and selling textiles to the ex-patriates of Jakarta. Back and forth, the trips were numerous to Sumba as that became my “beat”. I learned Indonesian even better. Once while talking to a French woman on the phone, in an effort to sell her textiles - but who could not speak English but did speak Indonesian, said she thought I was the best English-speaking Indonesian she had ever encountered.
Back and Forth
To get to/from Sumba, I frequently went through Jogjakarta in central Java. During those early days, no one was particularly interested in batik. And I was able to secure outstanding batik examples in Jogjakarta, Surakarta and along Java’s northern coast, including Cirebon and Pekalongan. I also encountered a young Javanese, distantly related to the royal kraton of Jogjakarta. He had an antique store - and became the source for the several batik dodot you find here.
Invariably, Bali was visited as the prop planes to Sumba departed from Bali. These stays led me to Tenggenang, the Balinese village along the southeastern coast where the rare double-ikat textiles known as geringseng are exclusively woven.
Ikats to Dye For
I once went to visit Rita Bolland at the Tropen Museum in Holland. When I asked her what her favorite island was, she said “Lomblen”, which I was then barely familiar with. But I made several visits to Lomblen - and found the early coastal ikats to be rich in dye, often taking several years to dye the burgundy threads thoroughly. This was a story, too, similarly told about the Balinese geringseng: it wasn’t the weaving that took so long, it was the dye period of up to seven years to achieve the deep, completely saturated burgundy tone.