Marilyn Salomon’s face glows with joy. In her hands she holds an iron and a piece of newsprint paper, and beneath these two mundane objects lies the mystery of batik artwork, images created with wax and dyes on cloth.
“This is one of the most exciting parts. You never know exactly what will come out. It’s an emotional high,” she said.
Salomon has worked on this piece for the past couple of months. A black rim of fabric frames three panels, each showing a different Native American scene. She used at least 15 colors of dyes to capture the details of the figures depicted in her piece.
She made this along with a batik of moccasins for the Western Artists of America show in Corsicana, Texas. The show will start at the end of March and run for about a month at the Pearce Museum on the Navarro College Campus.
Salomon has taken the batik art form to new levels including acceptance into the Western Artists of America, an organization that up until Salomon only accepted painters and sculptors. She has also participated in events as diverse as the international Fiber Face show in Indonesia, which explored the relationships between contemporary arts and traditional fiber.
Most would equate dyeing fabric covered in wax to an arts and craft. However, this is fine art — says Salomon.
From all of her research, Salomon has defined fine art as: non-functional; having aesthetic value enhancing life with beauty; and every creation is one-of-a-kind.
Each of Salomon’s batiks has its own style. She might find inspiration for a piece from a dream or a photograph she has taken or from research in a museum or even someone’s story. Sometimes she will use 25 to 60 colors for a single batik. The details in her creations often evoke an emotional response.
“Do you know how it feels to have someone look at my art and break into tears?” said Salomon.
She puts her heart and soul into her artwork, spending hours researching either the history or cultural significance behind the subject. She and her husband travel to dances and celebrations. She has met shamen and befriended families from many tribes.
Salomon has struggled to make sure she captures the deep spiritual meanings in Native American themes. She knew she had done what she set out to accomplish when a Native American saw her art and told her, “You bring honor to us.”
Salomon has always loved art. In fifth grade, her teacher brought in charcoal and paper. She set up a still life with a vase, flowers and fruit. From the moment Salomon touched the charcoal to the paper, she knew art would be in her life, she just didn’t know exactly what form it would take.
In 1970 with two small children and a career in teaching and training in art therapy for students with special needs, Salomon took a vacation with her family to Europe and Israel. The trip was funded with extra cash she had earned from selling paintings. When they reached Israel, her husband introduced her to his cousin, Miriam Ariav. She possessed the title “master batik artist” and taught batik in the community she lived in.
“What’s so funny is that Miriam only knew Hebrew, her husband spoke German and my husband knew enough German to translate it all into English,” said Salomon.
She spent two weeks studying under Ariav. As soon as she worked with the fabric, wax and dye, she knew she had found her medium. She’s been doing batik for the past 40 years.
Artisans have created a form of batik for thousands of years. Archeologists have found remnants of wax-resist fabric in Egyptian tombs dating back to the 1st century B.C. The Chinese in the 7th century B.C. used rice paste as the resist to dyes in the fabric. In Africa, artisans used mud.
The expertise expanded along the Silk Road, spreading from Belgium to Indonesia. Usually done in royal courts, the art caught on in the villages of Indonesia where they practice it today. Batik comes from the Indonesian words “amba” (writing) and “titik” (dot).
True batik has the same colors and design on the front as on the back. However, companies in Indonesia catering to tourists make imitation batik with a design on only one side at a greatly reduced price. For artists and the villagers in Indonesia, this imitation art threatened to undermine the purity of the art form, said Salomon. In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed batik on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, validating the discipline as part of humanity’s legacy. (http://www.unesco.org/culture /ich/en/RL/00170)
To create her pieces, Salomon first draws a picture on paper, then traces it onto silk. Using a traditional Indonesian tool called a T’janting, (which looks like a miniature teapot on a stick), she carefully drips wax onto the areas of the fabric that she wants to protect from the dye.
“It’s easy to mess up this part,” said Salomon.
When she dyes, she does the lightest color first. After the fabric dries, she reapplies wax to the areas she wishes to keep the first dye color, then dips into the new dye color. She repeats this process up to 60 times.
Sometimes Salomon uses incompatible colors, such as blue or red versus a yellow or beige. When the piece requires those bold colors, she must remove all the wax and start from scratch re-applying the wax.
“This can take days,” she said.
Most of her art has Native American themes.
“Since I was a child, I have loved Native Americans. In Campfire Girls, I had a Native American name,” she said.
Her love of the Western life inspired her to move to the Rim Country in 1999 from the Los Angeles area. She and her husband, Chuck, settled in Christopher Creek and built their dream home and studio for her work.
Through her friendships and experiences with Native Americans, she has tapped into their culture on a more intimate level, which reflects in her artwork.
“They have awakened me. I want to preserve their history, to taste it, feel it and express it,” said Salomon.
Her attention to detail, friendships and commitment to her art resulted in two high honors this year.
In February, she took “the trip of a lifetime” to Indonesia as one of two batik artists selected from the United States to present her work at the International Batik Exhibition, “Fiber Face 3.”
“It was a profound exchange. My use of batik depicting Native American traditions caused a dialogue between me and other cultures, particularly Indonesian and Australian. I in turn, am continuing to learn about the Indonesian religious and sacred traditions expressed in their batiks,” said Salomon of the exhibition.
In May of this year, she received the honor of becoming elected to the Western Artists of America organization, even though the organization was closed to new members.
The mission of Western Artists of America is to promote the talents of professional fine artists specializing in the genre of cowboy, Indian, pioneer, cattle and horse subjects with backgrounds in the subject matter they express.
“People in this group are the crème de la crème of Western art,” said Salomon.
Artists from the group saw Salomon’s work at the San Dimas Western Art show. They urged her to contact the president, Ed Holmes. She did, sending a CD with details on how she creates her fine art and a resume that includes co-curator of the Lancaster Museum of Art, numerous awards including first place in the 2006 Phippen Museum show, and lectures at universities, museums and conferences all over the world. Although no artists other than painters and sculptors have ever been elected to this prestigious organization, the president and members felt she deserved the honor.
Salomon will create six pieces for exhibition and sale at the Western Artists of America Texas show in March. The piece she ironed will soon be framed and ready to send, however, Salomon hasn’t named it yet.
“I sit with my pieces after they are done and meditate on what name fits — sometimes it is a few days till a name manifests,” she said.
Whatever name Salomon decides on, it will define her philosophy of art: “Artwork needs to provoke social and cultural change. The work I do is with thought, research and joy.”
For more information, please see www.batiksbymarilyn.com.