The Development of Jepara Wood Carving to The Worldwide Acknowledgement
One of the superior products from Jepara is wood carving. When talking about Jepara, the art of carving is the main topic that is often discussed. This is because of stories about Jepara carving in the past and monikers that come from within the country. Finally, wood carving from Jepara developed until it became known throughout the world. The journey of wood carving from Jepara is also very long and has existed since being part of the Kalinyamat Kingdom.
The Origin of Jepara Carving
Stories about painters and carvers from the time of the Majapahit kingdom and the reign of the king of Brawijaya are told from generation to generation in Jepara. To this day, this legend still sounds very strong. Many believe that the legend is the origin of the city of Jepara which is famous for its wood carving crafts and the origin of many craftsmen who are good at creating these works of art.
It is said that Prabangkara, a carving and painting expert, was called by the King of Brawijaya to paint his wife in unclothed state as a manifestation of the king's love for his wife. As a painter, Prabangkara was asked to paint using his imagination without seeing the king's wife stripped.
Prabangkara then carried out the task well. But unfortunately, the lizard droppings fell and hit the painting. This causes the empress's painting to have a mole on her thigh. The king was satisfied with Prabangkara's painting. However, when he saw the mole on the painting, the king became very angry and then accused Prabangkara of seeing his wife naked because it turned out that the location of the mole was the same as the original.
Prabangkara then received punishment by being tied to a kite and then flown. He finally fell on the back of the mountain which is now named Mulyoharjo. Prabangkara then taught carving to many Jepara residents. The craftsmanship of Jepara residents continues to survive and develop today.
Apart from stories from Prabangkara, other stories have developed in the community. From history, it is stated that the people of Jepara have the expertise of wood carving that comes from the great artist, Ki Sungging Adi Luwih. Ki Sungging Adi Luwih lived in the kingdom and his skills reached the ears of the king.
In short, the king wanted to order pictures for his wife from Ki Sungging. Ki Sungging then finished the picture well. However, when Ki Sungging wanted to add black paint to his hair, the dye was scattered on his thighs so that it looked like a mole. After that, the painting of the empress was handed over to the king which made the king amazed by the results.
However, the king was also suspicious and assumed that Ki Sungging had seen the empress nude because the location of the mole on the painting was the same as the original. This made the king punish Ki Sungging by ordering him to make a statue of the empress in the air on a kite. The carvings were half-finished, but suddenly a strong wind came and made the statue fall and brought it to Bali.
Therefore, people in Bali are also familiar with and are experts in making sculptures. Meanwhile, the chisel used by Ki Sungging fell behind the mountain. The place where the tool fell is recognized today as the city of Jepara where the art of carving continues to develop.
The reign of Queen Kalinyamat
Typical Jepara carvings existed during the reign of Ratu Kalinyamat in 1549. The daughter of the queen, Retno Kencono, played a big role in the development of the art of carving in Jepara. At that time, the art of carving developed very rapidly, coupled with the presence of Minister Sungging Badarduwung from Campa who was also a carving expert.
Meanwhile, in the area behind the mountain, it is said that there is a group of carvers who have the task of serving the carving needs of the royal family. Over time, the group continued to grow until finally many neighbouring villages also learned to carve.
The era of Raden Ajeng Kartini
After Ratu Kalinyamat, the development of Jepara carving stopped and established yet again in the Kartini era, namely the heroine who came from Jepara. Raden Ajeng Kartini has a very big role in the art of carving. He thought that the life of a carving craftsman was inseparable from poverty and this disturbed him deeply.
R.A Kartini then summoned some craftsmen behind the mountain to make carvings such as small tables, sewing chests, frames, jewellery boxes, and various souvenirs. Then, Kartini sold these various objects to Semarang and Batavia, which are now known as Jakarta, so that Jepara carving was known to many people.
This makes orders increase and the production of Jepara carving also increases in terms of category. Then, Kartini introduced the distinctive Jepara carving art to foreign countries by giving souvenirs to friends abroad. All proceeds from the sale of goods that have been reduced by production costs are then left entirely to the craftsmen so that they can increase the standard of life of those who are involved in this field.
The Moniker as the City of Carving
The nickname as the city of carving is attached and becomes the identity of the city of Jepara. Not only because of past stories but in fact, Jepara has many people who are experts in carving and wood carving which are recognized by the world.
Carving skills can be considered a legacy. Generally passed down to the next generation either to men or women. Not only carving but, there are many Jepara crafts. Such as relief art, sculpture, the art of tiger brackets, bamboo weaving, and so on.
The Moniker of The World Carving Centre
The city of Jepara is known as the City of Carving and has now turned into the World Carving City. After the image of Jepara has risen to become The World Carving Centre, these various famous Jepara carvings have become increasingly favoured even abroad.
Various distinctive Jepara carvings are not only very popular in Indonesia but also have reached the international market. Initially, Jepara carvings were only made using traditional Javanese motifs. However, due to demand from the international market, various other motifs are now produced such as European style, British style, Chinese style, French style, and many more.
According to records, in 2015 there were around 113 countries that have become the target of Jepara wood carving exports. The United States is a major export destination. This is what makes Jepara increasingly known as a city of carving in the world.
Distinctive Jepara Carving Motifs
Jepara carvings have very distinctive features and are a sign if the carvings are original from the city of Jepara. The most distinguishing features are the shape of the pattern and the motif. Trubusan leaves are a motif that consists of two types, which are visible from those that come out on the stalks of the recesses and those that come out of the segments or branches.
The original Jepara carving motif can also be seen from the tassels and the end of the relung motif, namely the leaves that look like an open fan at the tip of a tapered leaf. Also, there are three to four seeds that come out of the base of the leaf plus a relung stalk that rotates lengthwise and spreads to form several small branches to beautify and fill the space. Besides, there are also some typical motifs from Jepara, such as:
- Makara Motif: This is a carving style that combines two cultural elements, namely Javanese Hindu culture and Islamic culture. Describing Hindi mythological creatures in fairy tale figures commonly seen in Indonesian temple reliefs.
- Dragon motif: Dragon is a mythological animal that is believed to be a symbol of rulers and is also known throughout the world. Usually, this motif is found on the bledek door of the Demak mosque and is also often applied in gebyok, Dayak paintings, and reliefs.
- Gunungan, leaf, and plant motifs: These are also the motifs that are widely used in Jepara carvings. An example is the shape of a leaf that tapers upwards like a pandan leaf.
Most Traditional Carving Activities
The various characteristics described above illustrate the identity of the Jepara carving. The shape of this carving motif is also embedded in various household furniture such as tables and chairs which are added with Jepara carvings as well as for photo frames which are also added with typical Jepara carvings.
Increasing product quality and quality control are the main targets of Jepara to enter the international market, so that foreign confidence in Jepara's industrial production also increases. Jepara is known as the biggest furniture producer in Indonesia. On July 17, 2010 Jepara succeeded in breaking the Indonesian record for wood carving activities together in one place which was attended by 502 people. MURI listed Bumi Kartini Regency in the 4391-record book.
The MURI certificate or charter was handed over by the Head of the Indonesian Record Museum represented by Ariyani Siregar, a deputy manager, to the Jepara Regent, Drs. Hendro Martojo in the square. Coincided with the holding of a carving competition to commemorate the anniversary of Jepara Regency.
Jepara Carving was Famous in the 19th Century.
In the 19th century, Jepara was already known as a manufacturer of carvings and furniture until it was known throughout the world thanks to Kartini's contribution. The art of craftsmanship of Jepara craftsmen has been obtained from generation to generation in producing carvings and typical Jepara furniture. Historically, Tjie Hwio Gwan or also known as Sungging Badar Duwung taught the art of carving to the people of Jepara during the Kalinyamat kingdom.
In the city of Jepara, these skills have become part of the arts, culture, and economy. For this reason, Jepara has earned the nickname as the City of Carving and The World Carving Center. In all corners of the city in Jepara, you can see the production centres of Jepara furniture as well as other carvings such as reliefs, sculptures, and many more.