Balinese art deco wood carvings

Art Deco Bali blog is created by Sipke van de Peppel, collector of Balinese wood carvings and printed matter related to the Dutch East Indies. Since 1994, when I traveled through Indonesia for a few months, I’ve been interested in the arts and crafts of the archipelago. Especially the refined wood carvings of Bali appeal to me because of the great craftsmanship and the fascinating mythological stories behind these works of art.

Master carver Ida Bagus Njana and his son Tilem at work in circa 1952.

For centuries wooden statues have been made for temples and palaces in Bali. The Dutch colonial intervention in 1906 put an end to this long feudal tradition and caused major changes in Balinese arts and crafts. This blog is dedicated to the period between 1920 and 1980 when a new woodcarving style emerged from the interaction between local and foreign artists, who came to Bali in the 1920s and 1930s. Among them were also a few Dutch artists, such as the painters Rudolf Bonnet, Willem Hofker and Auke Sonnega, and the sculptor Louis van der Noordaa.

Pita Maha
Bonnet was the driving force behind Pita Maha (Great Spirit), an artists’ association that he founded in 1936 together with his German colleague Walter Spies and some local artists. This association of about 150 painters, woodcarvers, silversmiths and goldsmiths held exhibitions in Bali, Java and the Netherlands to promote Balinese art. A selection committee of senior members reviewed the submitted work and determined which works were exhibited and which works were sold through a number of art galleries.

Growing tourism
Due to the growing tourism in the 1930s, the demand for wooden statues increased. To accommodate the tourists, the woodcarvers made smaller carvings that easily fitted in a suitcase. Wood carvings of everyday Balinese scenes, such as a legong dancer or an archer, were especially popular with the tourists. As a result, many woodcarvers who used to make traditional statues for temples and palaces became individual artists working for the tourist market. Their stylized wood carvings, inspired by the international Art Deco style, are now sought after collectables.

Art Deco wood carvings on display in circa 1935.
Calendar published by the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij in 1930 (collection Anno1900)

Colonial ephemera
Just as Balinese artists were influenced by Western art, there were also many Dutch artists who were inspired by the arts and cultures of Indonesia. On this site you will find graphics, batik work and other examples of this mutual influence.

The posts on Art Deco Bali blog are my personal thoughts about Balinese woodcarving and about the statues and ephemera in my collection. So they may contain errors or misinterpretations. Please let me know if you see one or if you want to add interesting information to a blogpost. Of course you can also contact me if you want to know more about one of your own statues or if you want to sell a wood carving. I’ll be happy to make you a good offer.

All black and white pictures on this page are from the Leiden University Libraries, Digital Collections, Southeast Asian & Caribbean Images (KITLV)

Contact me

If you have a question about my blog or if you’re looking for information about one of your own wood carvings, please fill in the form below and send me a message. Or just send an email to info@artdecobali.blog