Thailand; Passion for Buddha Statues

“I just love making Buddhas.”
~Jeuw~

Chaing Saen Buddha Statue

Large Thai Brass Buddha with Jeuw

I love meeting people with true passion. Passion for anything; painting, traveling, their children. Six years ago I was very fortunate to meet someone passionate about making Thai Buddha statues and his name is Jeuw.

In my first 4 years of traveling through Thailand I spent every waking hour of every day I was there looking for good honest people who make great Buddha statues for my budding business, Lotus Sculpture. Every year I was disappointed and had to settle for doing business with a factory who made quality, yet uninspired Buddha statues.

6 years ago while meandering through an amulet market in Bangkok I stumbled upon a great little shop full of beautiful Buddha statues that had both a sense of peace and radiated energy. They were not typical of the Buddhas sold anywhere else in the market. I was giddy from the start. Did I just find the people that I have been looking for the past 4 years? I stayed and enjoyed the day with the mother and wife of the owner who was away at the workshop. I made plans to come back the next day to meet the owner, Jeuw, and to go to see where he makes his Buddhas. When I met Jeuw I was outright ecstatic! He was young and passionate. In the hour and half drive to the outskirts of Bangkok to see his workshop I could feel that he was just as excited as I was. He was telling me about himself in his broken English and I was doing the same in my broken Thai.  One thing I remember from our first meeting was that he was not trying to sell me anything. He was continually pointing out the Buddha statues that he loved and that he was proud of making. “No one else has this style. I am the only one making this Buddha.” he kept saying. And he was right. No one else has his quality and style in making Buddhas. Jeuw’s father started the workshop 25 years ago and Jeuw just took over the day to day operations of the workshop. He was very happy to have their first and only foreign customer!

Besides the beautiful proportions and style of the Buddha statues Jeuw is a master of patina. He can make any statue have the most beautiful antique patina. I noticed this immediately that the color of his Buddhas was so authentic and stunning to look at. Even in his smaller Buddhas there is care given to the color of the piece. For this reason many known “Antique” shops in Bangkok purchase his Buddha statues. They sell his newly made sculpture as antiques to foreign tourists. I have seen many shops selling antiques in Bangkok that are not antique at all.

Enjoying dinner of the Khoa Praya river in Bangkok

Enjoying dinner of the Khoa Praya river in Bangkok

Six years later our relationship has grown immensely. Each year he shows me other styles he is making and Buddhas he had in mind for the future. Each night after our business is done we go out to a dinner on the Khoa Praya river in Bangkok and just talk Buddhas and life. One thing he reinforced to me was the passion he carries with him about Buddhas. “I just love making Buddhas.” He told me to start on my personal collection of Thai Buddha statues which I have done. He told me that there is no one else in Thailand who makes Buddhas like him. The younger generation has no interest in making Buddha statues and he feels that when he gets older there will not be anyone else who will carry on with his passion for the sculptures. I do hope he is wrong.

Lotus Sculpture has been blessed to have such a good person with Love for his Art and Lord Buddha supplying us with all our Thai Buddha statues. I’m looking forward to the next shipment of statues which should be arriving October, 2012.

Click here to view all Jeuw’s Thai Buddha statues.

Cruising for Ganeshas & Buddhas in Bali!

“My favorite days in Bali are spent on my rented motor scooter cruising through the markets, stores and back village workshops”
~Kyle~

 

Bali….I was amazed that I got through India without getting sick. In my 10 years of 15 trips to India I have managed to get a wide range of illnesses ranging from ordinary bugs to full-on, 105 degree temperatures. I dodged the bullet this trip! I was amazed! I jumped on the plane to Bali and patted myself on the back. Well done Kyle!

After arriving in Bali I sat down to a nice dinner at a respectable restaurant then quietly went to sleep that night. I awoke at 5am with an acrobat in my stomach. Yup, sick off the first meal I ate in Bali! That is what I get for counting my blessings to early! I spent the next day going through the lava stone workshops of my friend Christian, looking for quality Buddha statues that his family has been producing in Bali for the past 20 years. He consistently has the best quality Buddha carvings as well the best coloring for the statues. His artists can produce any color or texture in the stone. Each year I have seen a consistent improvement in the statues.

Lava stone Ganesh statue

On previous trips I have always shied away from Bali style Ganesha statues.  I was so used to the refined lifelike appearance of Ganesh in my travels through India, that the more crude Ganeshas of Bali did not seem attractive to me.  However, this year I opened my eyes and really saw the Bali style Ganesh for the first time and I liked what I saw.  There is a quote that I love about Ganesh;  “If you take home a stone and worship it in full faith, over a course of time you are bound to see the image of Ganesh.”  I truly saw Ganesh in the stone!  His fat almost tribal qualities are a perfect variation to the Indian style Ganesh.  As usual I bought too many of them!  I can never say no to a good statue!  In roaming thru his workshop I was consistently fighting back the desire to sit down and go to sleep or just fall over.  But I made it through the day…then on to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali to visit my Buddha wood carvers!

6 foot wooden buddha statue

My favorite days in Bali are spent on my rented motor scooter cruising through the markets, stores and back village workshops in Ubud. I must go into 30-40 shops a day. It is not easy to find quality wood Buddhas in Bali. There are hundreds of shops selling wood Buddhas however, over the years I have only found a small handful of artists who actually carve with true feeling for the work they are doing. Two artist that consistently make beautiful Buddhas are Mr Sayub and Mr Wayan. Wayan and his son carve my large standing Buddha statues on a blooming lotus base. This year he has carved two of them for me. One 8 feet tall and the other 6 feet tall. The detail and time taken on the flowing robes of the Buddha set his Buddha apart from other standing Buddhas!

wooden buddha statues in Bali

My other artist who I always look forward to seeing is Sayub. He makes small Buddha statues each usually with a very unique hand position. The thin fingers of each statue and minute detailing in the robes in my opinion crown him the current king of Balinese wood work…at least for Buddha statues! I also managed to pick up some very large wood statues including a 7 foot Kwan yin, 8 foot meditating Buddha and two other 7 foot standing Buddhas. After a couple of days of searching for Buddhas and cruising through rice fields on my scooter it was time to return to the coast.

I noticed in the shops in Ubud that there was some new metal work in Bali and I was determined to find out where they were being made. The statues were of Hindu gods and goddesses in various forms. The style was more similar in style to Cambodian Hindu and Buddhist statues with many arms and small weapons. I thus headed into Denpasar, the capital to check the markets. I knew I would not find the source here but I did find many shops that were selling the statues I was looking for. After many questions to many dealers I finally nailed down the source of the metal Hindu statues which I went to the following day. My search was rewarded and I choose some beautiful images. My favorite being a dancing Vishnu statue like no other I have seen before. The statue reminded me more of a Nataraja figure. I find it so fulfilling to start on a search for new sculpture mediums and designs and then achieve my goal. There is nothing like finding new artists!!!

By this time in my trip I really needed a reward. I spent the past 23 days working, flying, scooting, exploring every day and deserved a day off. I went to the quite surf beach of Padang Padang and got a bungalow on the ocean and spent the next day surfing and enjoying the ocean and stillness. My body and mind appreciated the day of mental tranquility and relaxation! Here is a video I shot from my bungalow. Yes, it was paradise!

Then I was off to Bangkok, Thailand and the last leg of my trip!

From Jail Cell to Family Man

I met Balan on my 2nd trip to India in 2001. Balan was somewhat of a celebrity among the Indian stone artists of the small fishing village of Mamallipuram, India because he had a golden tongue that could seal the deal with any of the visiting tourists for exporting any of the furniture or statues they purchased locally.  His celebrity brought me knocking to his door one evening looking for someone to help me export my statues that I purchased for my budding company Lotus Sculpture.

He is a character taken right out of a Bollywood movie cast as the criminal or crime boss.

My first thought as I saw Balan was; “Thug”.  He is a broad boned, heavy set man with balding hair, gaps in his teeth and skin the blackest color of night.  He is a character taken right out of a Bollywood movie cast as the criminal or crime boss.  I’m not going to say I trusted him immediately because I didn’t.  That took time.  His bachelor pad as he referred to it was a rented three room space that was formerly the town jail complete with bars in the windows and that feeling that some unsavory things took place there.  This only assisted my first impressions of my future shipper.  Balan was also a budding artist who had two marble artists in his employment.  I looked at his marble work and was impressed.  That night we worked over some of the details of my export and his golden tongue went to work on me and I was won over by his sense of humor and keen business acumen.  Today he is my best friend in India.

With each passing year Balan’s business has continued to grow.  From day one we forged a strong business relationship where I would pretty much buy every Hindu marble statue he produced.  I was his only customer.  His work he called “Masala statues” where he would mix together different aspects of different gods in poses that were not typical and never produced before.  His work was fresh and new and I loved it.  With each passing year I would see how much he had grown and each time he would thank me and tell me it was all from me.  I was, after all his only customer.  View Balan’s red marble and black marble Hindu Statues.

Now Balan is married to his wife of 6 years, Aril.  He has two adorable children, Akash 2, and Adittya 5, and a workshop of 30 men working for him.  Akash is an eater.  When I first held her she tried to bite me by taking a nibble out of my arm I guess it was her only defense against her older sister.  Addy is a talker and continually speak to me in Tamil even though I don’t understand a word.  Both love photos and on each visit to the house they would take out pictures of me holding them when they were babies and keep putting them under my nose to look at.
Their little friends in the neighborhood call me the “big white man”.  Akash got very confused because she thought my name was “uncle”.  She asked Balan who is “big white man”? in her high pitched little girl voice and we had a laugh over this.

My favorite days in India consist of sitting under his large Banyan tree he has in his workshop/home with Akash and Addy crawling around causing trouble, which is what we did this Sunday.  It was unbearably hot so we just stayed put and played with the kids as we talked about future plans for each other.  His workshop has grown so much in the past couple of years.  I am no longer his only customer.  He is building a temple in Mumbai and is starting on plans for a temple in London!  It is amazing how much has changed in 10 years.

Sometimes I feel like I have a double life.  I have my life in the USA consisting of my family and friends.  Then I have my life in Asia filled with a different group of family and friends.  Most of the artists I work with are similar in age to me and thus I have grown as they have grown.  As each has married and had children I have been there to see them as babies and watch them grow up.  Having Addy and Akash crawling around me like I am a jungle gym calling out “uncle” whenever they want to get my attention fills me with love for them.  The connection to my artists and their families only grows with each trip I take.  I am so thankful for having these special relationships half way around the world.  They are my 2nd family and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Things have come so far since my first meeting with Balan in his bachelor-pad, jail cell home. My “thug” best friend has a beautiful family and business is great!  I couldn’t be more happy for him!

Large Hanuman statue

Balan and I together with a seated Hanuman sculpture

Guru the taxi driver

On a rather sad note I found out that Guru, my taxi driver for the past 6 years, pictured on the right, passed away from a heart attack two months ago. He was one of the happiest people I have ever met. He was only about 4 foot 10 inches tall and had to reach down to touch the pedals of the car. He always had a big devilish grin on his face with big gaps in his teeth you could drive a car through. His main one liner to me was “Kyle, are you Happy?” as he winked, held his thumb up and smiled displaying his naughty grin. He did this about 5 times a day just to make sure I was happy…
The taxi rides of this trip were not the same without him. He was sorely missed.

The Kung Foo Brothers

 Immediately I could see they were different. They were young, loved making bronze statues and had big ideas for their future.

I met Vardaraj, Varun and Sini 8 years ago in the first years of Lotus Sculpture. Varadaraj is the eldest, Varun is in the middle and Sini is the baby. They were three kids who just broke away from a bronze collective they were apprenticing at for the past ten years to start their own bronze collective. I was their first customer. Immediately I could see they were different. They were young, loved making bronze statues and had big ideas for their future. I saw myself in them as we both were striving towards the same goals. In our first meeting I also discovered Varun, the middle aged brother wanted to be in kung foo movies. I still remember that exchange when he told me his future plans. “Like Jackie Chan!’”, he said eagerly. I made him repeat it several times as I really couldn’t believe my ears and in the end came the conclusion that this tall, muscular kid from Swamimalai had bigger dreams outside of the bronze casting business. Everyone can dream! From that day on my relationship and love for the Kung Foo Brothers, as I started to refer to them, has grown 100 fold. They are part of my Indian family!

23 foot Nataraja in mold

23 foot Nataraja is its earthen mold ready for casting!

Vardaraj, the oldest, had a different dream. Besides casting the best statues Swamimalai has to offer he wanted to make the worlds largest Nataraja statue. After arriving at his workshop this afternoon I saw how close he is to realizing his dream. The Nataraja is ready for casting! The Nataraja is 23 feet tall and will weigh a total of 10 tons of pure bronze! View this amazing Nataraja! After we climbed over the enormous mold of the Nararaja I then moved inside to view my, more modest bronze statues. They are experts at the Nataraja form and I took in my 4 Natarajas I commissioned. Each a perfect representation of Shiva’s dance of destruction. In each statue, Shiva is suspended upon the prostrate dwarf, Apasmara, like he is flying, light as a feather. In my opinion there is no statue form as fine as a Nataraja with perfect proportions. It will always take a little of my breath away to see a masterpiece Nataraja as Varadaraj is so adept at creating!

Varun and Varadaraj working on a wax model of Ravendra

Varun and Varadaraj working on a wax model of Ravendra

I spent two days with the family and enjoyed their youthful, smiling mother’s, “Mama’s” cooking for lunch each day. It is always my favorite meal in India a mixture of prawn curry, chicken masala and coconut rice that is impossible to find made with such love at any restaurant. I bought them an iPhone which we spent a couple of hours figuring out the inner workings to the phone. I love watching the interplay between the three brothers. They are so close I really think they can read each others mind. Whenever they are sitting with together they have an arm over each others shoulder, whispering into the others’ ear. I often feel like I am intruding as their exchanges feel so private and personal.

While roaming around the now 30 workers Varadaraj now has working for him I took many videos of the lost wax method process to show in more detail how south Indian bronze statues are made. The process is incredibly long and tedious with 5 separate steps. I thought video is the best way to illustrate with bronze statue making process. People often times say the prices of bronze are too high on Lotus Sculpture. I know that when one fully understands the entire process and the overall work that goes into the making of one bronze statue you will wonder whey they are so inexpensive! I will adding these and many other videos to our site and youtube channel in the coming weeks.

By far my favorite piece of news I have received on this trip was that Varun has received a role as the hero in an action film in Chennai that starts filming in two months!!! He will be a kung foo hero, like Jackie Chan!!! I literally jumped off the ground when he told me this. I am so happy for him. I love when people have dreams and make them into realities. The kung foo brothers are dreamers and I am very happy to call them my friends.