Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


American batik practice emerged in the early twentieth century based on traditional techniques from Java and those filtered through Dutch Nieuwe Kunst. The promotion of batik through the Arts and Crafts movement in North America fostered egalitarian endorsement from artisans, individual practitioners, and consumers, across geographic locales, social milieu, and skill levels. Encouraged by manuals, magazine articles, and exhibitions, enthusiasm for batik grew across the nation and in the avant-garde enclave of Greenwich Village. While practitioners were cautioned to avoid excessive veining or crackle in their works in emulation of fine tradition, commercial enterprises helped to transform the aesthetic of batik in America. Two elements–subtle veining (or crackle) and the clearly drawn line of hot wax flowing from the canting–extracted from the tradition of fine Javanese batik predominated in American popular and commercial batiks.

In 1914 the John Wannamaker New York store employed Pieter Mijer to supply batik art, accessories, and yardage to its silk fabric department. Extant yardage samples consist of all-over crackle. Printed designs of fabric companies Cheney Brothers (Ye Greenwich Village Prints by Coulton Waugh in 1919) and H.R. Mallinson & Co. show prominent crackle and lines imitating the flow of wax from a canting. Yet, while American commercial batiks did not resemble traditional batik designs, motifs, colors, or processes they were perceived as batik. As new elements in the American design vocabulary, the flowing line and the crackle effect indicated batik. For example, H. R. Mallinson & Co. described their batik fabric designs as “Javanesque effects.” As long as lines resembling drawn wax or crackle were discernable, fabric designs were “like” batik– they were “Javanesque.” Crackle also provided an abstract quality linking batik to emerging modernist art styles: Crackle referenced only itself as an indication of the batik process and had no figurative or symbolic meaning. Once a subtle signature of fine batik as faint veining, the amplification of crackle into an especially prominent motif in American batik marked the transformation of batik in America from Javanese to Javanesque.