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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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THE HAPPY VALLEY STORY (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.

At the time there were probably at least one hundred clothes boutiques open in Ibiza where competition was cut throat between the most successful shops and merely ferocious between the smaller stores. Neither Chris nor Gwyn had any experience at all in this kind of business. But they brought a naive eagerness and a generosity of spirit to a traditionally sleazy and money oriented business. Except for Laurence and Bill Cooper, Marie Luz and I were the only ones in the group who had any real experience at all in the Rag Trade. We had been living off our artwork for several years by this time. But all of us were very excited by the possibility of working together on a joint project and of perhaps solving all our money problems at the same time. Gwyn called us up and we went over to Ibiza to take part in a Happy Valley Weekend Conference where all our various roles were worked out. Marie Luz, Michael and Gene and I were all charged with the task of producing a large batik stock. This lead eventually to the Great Batik Skirt Wars when we found ourselves in competition with each other in the shop. But for now, we were selling our work directly to Gwyn and she had money to burn. As well as skirts, we were given an unlimited budget to create the most fantastic and unique clothes possible and Gwyn encouraged us to use the richest materials possible. Gwyn herself was to manage the shop while Chris was in charge of transportation, the baby and the music (?). Bill Cooper came over from London to be chief clothes designer and Laurence who had a young baby boy and who had recently moved into a little house down the valley, signed on as seamstress to help him. It was a formidable team and spirits ran high.

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 candlelight 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.

 

The shop itself was very small, two adjoining rooms with a fabulously huge mirror against the end wall. A distortion in the glass made us all look like slim 6'.6" gods and goddesses and that there was a great crack running down one side of it where some child had attacked him or herself with a hammer. There was a shaky screen which acted as a changing room in one corner, an equally primitive toilet in the other and our record player had definitely seen better days. The music played on it however was famous throughout Ibiza. On any one day, you might hear Corelli chorale music followed by some rare Charlie Parker l.p. or Bob Marley's hot new record straight from Jamaica. We were eclectic to say the very least. For the Grand Opening of Happy Valley Boutique, Marie Luz made a beautiful long dark red velvet dress with an iris design on it while I designed a sumptuous raw silk kimono with sleeves covered with pomegranates and an Ibiza landscape batiked all over the body. Michael and Gene managed to eclipse our work with an extraordinary evening dress made of satin and satin gauze. The lilac-coloured undergarment depicted flying birds while the transparent gauze of the overgarment was batiked with soft clouds so that the birds appeared to be flying in a dreamy sky.

 

By this time, Marie Luz and I felt that we lived on the ferryboat between the Island and the Mainland for as business slowly improved at Happy Valley, we found ourselves traveling backwards and forwards more and more. We had the children for the whole summer in 1975 and though we somehow managed to pack them all into the three small rooms at Mi Casita, Marie Luz and I found ourselves sleeping outside under a fig tree (which actually wasn't that unpleasant an experience). But if we were to start to spend more time with the kids and achieve our goal of getting back to Ibiza to live, we did need to find a new house.

That very summer, the French junkies, who had for so long lived up the hill at the big house called Es Coll des Vens, (the Hill of the Winds), finally called it a day and went home to wherever that was. The house was put up for rent. I went to see the owners and signed a long lease and we all moved in at the end of August that same year.

 

 

 

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