Saturday, May 31, 2014

Peter James Jasper has purchased a copy of Legacy in Cloth, Batak Textiles of Indonesia

My dedication in Peter James Jasper’s copy of Legacy in Cloth, Batak Textiles of Indonesia, reads “What an honour that this book, inspired by the works of grandfather Johan Ernst Jasper, should come into the possession of his grandson, Jim Jasper.”

Jim has been generous with his assistance when I have had questions about J.E. Jasper’s life. An email friendship has grown up between the two of us. For me it is a very special friendship. 

J.E. Jasper as Governor
of Yogyakarta
The grandfather, J.E. Jasper (1874 -1945), is one of the foremost, early figures in the history of craft studies in Indonesia. For many years his work has been an inspiration to me and for good reason.

First is his love and respect for Indonesian craft. Precisely when he started to explore Indonesian basketry as a hobby is unclear but we know that he had a passion for the diversity of plaiting that he found in the Dutch East Indies and that he was writing about it even before he landed the assignment to survey craft in the Indonesian archipelago for the colonial government.  He was assigned the task because in addition to his passion, he showed intelligence and talent. That was evident early on in his career when he was still an assistant Controleur. Punctuating all of his subsequent publications are expressions of admiration for craft in the archipelago and a commitment to having it thrive.

Second is the abounding evidence of Jasper’s insistence on quality research. Again, reading between the lines, it is clear that he aspired to become one of those top colonial administrators who were gargantuan in their interests, detailed in their observations and accurate and prolific in their writings. Jasper’s publications on craft have become foundation stones for later research because of their detail. He appears to have been tireless in his dedication to explore the subject area thoroughly.

Third, Jasper helped to set the early parameters of craft discourse. This is true in both geographical and thematic terms. His observations were astute. He knew the literature and themes of his time. He summed up past work and he distilled directions of future inquiry.

Fourth, Jasper was encouraged (especially during the first years of his assignment) by the central administration of the country. Who can say that about craft studies today? This is not something for which we can admire Jasper but it is a facet of his career that we can envy. He was lucky to be able to ride a unique wave. And the way he rode it is evidence of how craft can benefit from governmental support of the right kind. We can admire how he made use of the opening that was given to him: with boundless enthusiasm he plunged into the tasks of setting up craft schools, markets and exhibitions. He appears to have been a dedicated and inspiring figure. He had a vision and a dream and was determined to give his best to both.

Fifth, Jasper’s work is excellent for its breadth of focus. His travels took him to the far corners of the archipelago. His readings supplemented his findings. His publications lay a foundation of such scope that all students of craft have since consulted them. For the comparative study of craft in the archipelago, they are unsurpassed.

Sixth, Jasper’s working relationship with Pirngadie appears to have been exemplary. Mas Pirngadie, the brilliant, self-taught Javanese artist was Jasper’s protégé. His style and interests were a perfect match for Jasper’s needs. Fitting, but remarkable for the time, Jasper made him the second author of his primary publication on craft, the five-volume De Inlandsche Kunstnijverheid in Nederlandsch Indië, because his contributions to the volume merited this. This was another example of Jasper’s respect for Indonesian talent and accomplishment and his insistence on fairness.

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