When I first went to Indonesia, almost 30 years ago, I quickly knew it would occupy a major part of my heart, so my challenge would be to figure out how to make it a large part of my life. Eventually, – after learning the language, meeting the people, and learning about their culture – I created a plan: I began to travel the country to visit the craft workers who had honed their skills over many generations. I would share cups of tea and stories with them, meet their families, and see them create their beautiful handicrafts. I soon realized that, by finding the most unusual pieces and bringing these treasures to my own country, I could not only offer beauty to others, but also help these skilled, creative artisans continue doing what they love, and do it all in a fair trade way.
In 1995, I launched From Bali to Bala: An Open House and Sale of Laura F. Cohn’s Contemporary Batik Paintings and Original Indonesian Handcrafts. After a long, successful tenure in my Bala Cynwyd home, I realized that the show needed a bigger, more public space to flourish. For several years, I mounted the show in Manayunk, and then finally brought it to the heart of Chestnut Hill, a vibrant Philadelphia neighborhood known for a bustling commercial corridor with tree-lined and cobble stoned streets, and awarded “Best Main Street Shopping District” by Philadelphia Magazine.
As it has evolved over two decades, From Bali to Bala has become a unique cross-cultural event, combining the traditional with the contemporary. In addition to my unique batik paintings, I show an unusual collection of imported handcrafts that I continue to buy directly from the artisans on my annual trip back to my beloved Indonesia each year. With wooden masks hanging on the wall; parents and children playing with unusual instruments, toys, and puppets; visitors feeling rich fabrics and draping colorful sarongs around them, while others try out silver jewelry, and much more, the visit to From Bali to Bala is truly an immersive experience. Plus, because I buy and import directly from the craftsmen, my customers pay less, and the artists receive more. Also, in keeping with my commitment to Indonesia, a portion of the proceeds each year is donated to a different nonprofit organization in Indonesia, one that is committed to providing resources to those less fortunate then us.
The exhibit is enhanced with the sounds, smells, and flavors of Indonesia, to both intrigue and inform visitors about this distant and mysterious land. Throughout the show, I offer special events that highlight Indonesian culture with dance performances, classes, workshops, foods, and children’s storytelling. I am passionate about sharing information on Indonesia with my Philadelphia-area neighbors. Now, more than ever, we need to learn how people live and feel in foreign lands, and through From Bali to Bala you can without having to travel 12,000 miles to get there. Let us bring Indonesia to you!