Terracotta Roof Birds of Bali

A few weeks ago the House of Terracotta Facebook page posted a series of photos of Balinese earthenware birds on the ridges of wooden rooftops. The plump birds were lined up on the roof top in the way of real birds, facing various directions, and at one end of the roof, there was a large bird, a partridge maybe, or pheasant, something with plumes. I was entranced. And whenever I am entranced with something in clay, I think at once I must have it, or even, I must try to make it. At the very least, I must read about it.

There are buildings with tile roofs here in New England, roofs that have withstood the vicissitudes of our weather, but I think that clay birds set along the roof peak might not fare well in our snow storms, northeasters, hurricanes, and in recent years, tornadoes. Global warming has not been kind to us. Perhaps instead, the birds should sit in the garden and come inside for the winter?

And then curiously, while thinking about the clay birds, and looking at the photos on House of Terracotta’s page – as is so often the way when something that is new to you or that you haven’t thought about in awhile suddenly starts popping up here and there in your life  – Majapahit Terracotta: The Soedarmadji Jean Henry Damais Collection arrived in the bookstore and there, lo and behold, were more Balinese terracotta roof birds.

This little book, published in Indonesia in 2012 and available internationally, in English here, is a look at the wonderful ancient terracotta of Bali as collected by Mr. Damais who co-founded the Indonesian Ceramica Society. In addition to the charming clay birds in his collection he has elaborate pillar bases, miniature shrines, basins, containers, ewers, gargoyles, ornamental garden statues and offering stands. He admits to a bit of a problem with provenance of some of his pieces, and even the possibility of fakery, as there seems to be a thriving business in fake antiques in Bali. With this in mind, he has devised some reliable tests to ascertain the antiquity of those holdings in doubt.

The Majapahit Empire was at the height of its power around the middle of the 14th century. It “covered an area from the Kedu valley eastward on the island of Java, as well as the islands of Madura and Bali.” The Majapahit were fine crafts workers, using primarily wood, bronze, stone and clay. They were master brick makers and bricklayers whose skills astonish the modern eye when looking at the intricate temples and gates they built. Some still stand all these centuries later.

Majapahit Terracotta is a little gem with excellent photos. A nice introduction to some really good ceramics.