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Woodcarving in Gianyar, Bali

Updated: May 11

Bali is undeniably an epicenter for talented artists. My last post I shared photos of their famous textile artisans, today I turn my attention to their master wood carvers. Bali is known as a hotspot for both master wood and stone carvers. I personally prefer the warmth of wood over stone so that is what I included in our family's itinerary. In retrospect, I muse that wood is also more lightweight to carry home, knowing that my son adores bringing home artwork from places we visit; but honestly, that did not cross my mind at the time.

For the Balinese, woodcarving is an ancient art form, dating back to Bali's feudal kingdoms, where it was used both as temple decorations and in homes. For temples, it is obvious; for homes, think columns, beams, doors, tool handles and bottle stoppers. In the 1930's there was a noticeable addition of more contemporary sculptures which yes, corresponded to the increasing number of tourists. European artists who came to Ubud in the 1920's and 1930's had a deep impact on the Balinese form of woodworking. Previously sculptures were religious and mythological in nature, but now they were adding more realism into their art form: peasants working, deer grazing or nude girls bathing. The Balinese had started to create carvings for commercial purposes in addition to religious ones.

A craftsman at work. We were told he is a master woodcarver but in this photo he looks so young. Individual pieces can take from one to four months to complete, all done by hand of course.

It was fascinating to watch these woodcarvers at work. I was filled with appreciation for them and their art while also a little envious of their talents.

In Bali, the carver starts with a block of wood that is equal in size to his imagined final composition. The carver using very simple but highly sharpened tools (as seen in the photo above), lightly taps the tool to create the vision he has in his mind. This differs from our western technique; the Balinese carver does not use hand pressure except for the most intricate areas. I also learned that woodcarving requires more precision and certainty than stone carving.

Then we went into the showroom. It was an immense, two-leveled museum/shop of incredible art.

Our son continues to peruse long after his Dad's legs and mine have sit down for a rest.

My guys converting Indonesian rupiah to United States dollars, or figuring out how much desired pieces would cost.


Long story short, this carving came home with us, a souvenir for our son, now placed in his dorm room on campus. This carving is of a Barong which felt very appropriate having experienced the Barong Dance and being familiar with the Barong's important place in the Balinese culture. My son also selected it because it is made of crocodile wood, which only grows in southeast Asia. It is very white in appearance, almost like ivory. (The left side is darker only due to my poor photography techniques.)

There are many fine woodcarving centers around Bali. We visited Warung Dewa Malen and certainly recommend it. It is located in Gianyar which is known as a craft-producing region with high artistic value. Wood carvings of Gianyar are known for exquisite design, detail and high-quality materials.

Trust me, the photos do not do justice. The workmanship is indeed exquisite and oh, there is always that one that you left behind.

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