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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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Life in the Timeless Zone 1975
In 1975, Gwyn suddenly sold her house, Can Masoueta and she, Chris and their son Indra moved into Ibiza town. The beautiful old house went to a mysterious woman from Barcelona for a fraction of its worth but Gwyn realized a lifetime ambition by buying a small clothes shop in town with the proceeds.

It was in a quiet side street near the Vara de Rey Plaza right in the center of Ibiza and was a little step-down boutique with a large old wooden door leading onto a pedestrian-only cobbled street. She called the shop "Happy Valley" after the name given to our little community in the San Jose Valley. Gene painted a rather pop pastoral scene on the shop doors and George the sculptor did the lettering on the door. Phillip came up with a beautifully painted hanging sign showing a Christopher Robin-like child walking through a gate into a view of the valley with Vedra that we all knew so well.

Most of the clothes boutiques in Ibiza operated the consignment system and paid for clothes if and when they sold. Gwyn bought all the stock she needed to open the shop and only started to take clothes on consignment when she ran out of money. That happened pretty quickly for she had never had any money to spend before and was anxious to spread it around as soon as possible.

Meanwhile the word had quickly got around that a crazy hippie was buying stock in a hurry and people came from all over the Balearic Islands with wares for sale. Gwyn could refuse nobody and bought all kinds of weird and useless clothes, hand painted velvet overcoats, skimpy bejeweled waistcoats, blue suede bellbottom pants, socks sewn for giants and hats for dwarfs or witches.

The shop's emphasis on children's clothing was laudable and unique in Ibiza at that time but did seem to give license to the buying of a lot of really strange garments that only a truly devoted mother might see a use for. Gwyn was definitely such a mother. Indra had been born in the big room at Mount Mad a couple of years before with all of us in attendance. The little Ibicenco midwife who came to help, got into bed with Gwyn as soon as she arrived and stayed there till the actual birth, two painful days later

Children were central to the shop and were generally to be seen out rolling in the gutter in front of the shop where they tormented the city mongrels or being discretely breast fed in the changing room. Slowly the shop came together. Teams of little black dressed Ibicenco ladies toiled by candle light to finish the sewing, we continued to labour over our wax pots and Gwyn continued to overpay everyone for their goods. I swear that I once heard her bargaining up the price of some children's clothes brought by a woman all the way from Formenterra.

Gene designed a card for the shop showing a plump dove in a blue sky with the slogan "a pastoral vision" underneath. It was a miracle that Happy Valley wasn't closed down by the Spanish authorities within the first six months of its existence. There was definitely no other boutique like it in Ibiza at that time. Although there were perhaps a dozen people selling their clothes through the shop at the beginning, the number of people with clothes on consignment had risen to over one hundred and fifty within two years.

We were a marginal operation to say the least. None of us had visas to live permanently in Spain nor permits to work there, no taxes were declared or paid, the shop kept odd, irregular hours and the people working in the shop changed continually. At one time there were twelve different people working in the shop during the week and Gwyn stuck a notice up on the wall saying "Please do not steal from us; this shop feeds a big family of hungry freaks". She was the manager of this anarchistic operation at the beginning and was later succeeded by Michael. Then everybody except me had a shot at running the shop.

I've always known that I was no good as a salesman. Long before, when I was a student, I got a job selling the proverbial encyclopedias on commission and didn't manage to sell a single one. In fact the only time that it looked like a poor, old, rather simple couple were about to fall for the bait, I felt tremendous compassion for them and managed to talk them out of it before they signed the fatal contract. One morning when I reported to the office for work, the encyclopedia company was rolling up the carpets and literally doing a bunk.

In order to keep up with ever increasing orders for wrap-around skirts, I used to go out onto the big flat rock by the house every evening to do a quick sketch of the sunset. I would draw it on a skirt the next morning and have it batiked, cleaned of wax and straight into the shop within a few days. We felt a new immediacy about the work while working in a medium notoriously slow and laborious to realize.

By this time, Gwyn's fortune was long gone and we found ourselves in friendly competition with Michael and Gene who were also turning out batik clothes as fast as they could. Competition is one of the prime tenants of commerce and although we would probably have scoffed at the idea way back then, I'm sure that the two rival batik studios spurred each other on to greater creative heights and to higher production levels.

Wrap-around skirts were in that year. They were easy to sew, provided large canvases for our ideas and German tourists couldn't get enough of them. We tended to work in series, producing birds or landscapes or flower studies. There wasn't much difference in the work we produced for our skirts or for our wall hangings. Batik was a slow but original way to paint cloth and nobody else was doing anything like the work we were doing.

Es Coll des Vens was a three hundred year old finca, perched on the top of the hill above Gwyn's old house. It was built up so high that it had views across the island to the sea on either side. We had three bedrooms, a studio, a big funky kitchen, a wine press room and a huge entrada room which opened out onto a crumbling porch. There was a cisterna for water and a great creeper doing its best to strangle the house. There were crumbling outbuildings, a goat shed carved out of the rock opposite and plenty of space for an outside studio to be set up. We even had land for a vegetable garden and enough outdoors for the kids to run as wild as they wanted.

Poised as we were between two valleys, the rough road snaked up the hill on one side of the house and vanished down the other side to pass by Peter and Pat's and Bruce's house. It felt wonderful to be living there for we were closer to old friends than ever. We made a series of trips back to Valvidrera to bring the studio and our furniture over while still maintaining our business contacts in Barcelona. Marta, Marie Luz's oldest daughter left school and moved in with us at Es Coll des Vens that year and we had the feeling that the other children were only a few years behind.

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