Newsletter July 2008

Hi Folks,

The cover story of this newsletter is about a stunning project that awakens awe and wonder daily.  In the slums of Old Delhi, stands living proof of what courage, commitment, and vision can create in this world.  Please read it, allowing the underlying heartache and joy to rise to the surface.

We promise the show, “A World of Chairs” and the reception party will be fun and inspiring to all.  We hope you’ll join us!

The “People vs. Things” will give you a glimpse into the richness and depth of my world overseas; its quandaries and opportunities.

Thank you for letting us share all this beauty.  Live well!


Alpha Public School, Delhi, India

This amazing project is near and dear to my heart and home. It is an unseen thread of David Alan Collection that is woven into the warp and weft of our lives.

My wife, Amita, has devoted her life over the past 4 years to creating and improving a school in Old Delhi, India. She pursued this project with the same passion and commitment that I did with DAC. We share a commitment and passion for each others current life work. Coming from a Ph.D. background in Molecular Biology, Amita applies principles of hard work, unbiased observation, and delayed gratification, to the development of the school and the children who attend and thrive there. The traditional method of rote memorization education in India has a record of continued failure in extremely poor communities, which is the majority of schools. Amita, along with the staff and administrators, is gradually making this school into a Montessori school, which gives access to a brilliant education for kids who would have otherwise been neglected and relegated to having a life of poverty similar to that of their parents. These are children would have been used and discarded, instead of being valued and productive.

The children work quietly, intent on their individual projects, learning at their own paces with no need for discipline. This is in sharp contrast to rigid system of enforcement and fear seen in most schools. The gift of this program is seeing kids loving to learn, every hour, every day, pleading to stay after class to learn more.

There are now 140 children in the school, from nursery to 5th grade. Tuition averages $90 a year per child, which includes uniforms, materials, and some medical care. This covers about one quarter of the actual cost to run the school. The balance comes from contributions from people in America. The school desperately needs supplies, scholarships and money to outfit additional space. We now have a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) corporation, available to us under the auspices of a Congressional District Program for tax deducible donations. We created “Ignite: A Foundation for Learning” to support this school and future projects in India and Bali. Alpha Public School has Non Government Organization status in India.

Amita raises money for the school in part by teaching four-session, Indian Vegetarian cooking classes for small groups in our home and other locations. They are fun and interactive.  Participants will go home from each class with a full meal under their belt, the ability to prepare exquisite dishes, insights into Indian culture, and the knowledge that they contributed to the education of these deserving children.

A World of Chairs

Having been an active woodworker for many years, I was always fascinated by the construction and design of chairs. I made a chair once. Chairs have many small joints, lots of stress from heavy use and abuse, and they must stand on all four legs at the same time. My one and only chair got shorter and shorter as I tried to level it by cutting the legs, one after another, over and over, until it was the height of a step stool; an uneven step stool.  Consequently, I developed a healthy respect for a well designed and well made chair.  I think we admire most what we can’t do.

In our current show, “A World of Chairs,” we explore the diversity, fun, craftsmanship, and creativity in the design of chairs.  I have no doubt you will be delighted by the richness of expression found in this seemingly narrow category of chairs made of wood.

What generally defines a good chair (or any piece of furniture) is the quality and interest of material and craftsmanship, as well as its comfort, function, design and history.  The chairs chosen for this show rank highly in several of these categories, though a brilliant design, or stunning materials, may override comfort or function just as an interesting history or rich patina from long use may make an older piece the star of the show.

In “A World of Chairs,” pieces we showcase are antique and contemporary chairs from China, Thailand, and Indonesia.  As is customary in the East, the maker is rarely known.  You will see 80-year old teak chairs from Java with strong craftsman and art deco overtones alongside contemporary organic, teak root pieces that are reminiscent of ancient thrones.  There will be a range of benches as well, from village rustic to sophisticated Dutch colonial styles.

Whatever your taste, we promise you will be inspired, delighted and filled with appreciation for the creativity, skill and diversity of human expression in this, the David Alan Collection World of Chairs opening party Thursday, July 31st, 2008 6-9pm.

The Kris Knife

When I was in Bali last summer, I asked a friend, Wedha, a Kris knife collector, to give me a crash course on these revered, highly collectible items. I was curious, because most of the guys I know in Indonesia have some sort of Kris knife collection. We spent a wonderful evening studying his collection of Kris knives. I was stunned by the diversity and beauty of these blades, handles and sheathes, and was immediately drawn into their mystery and magic.
The earliest dated blade is marked 1342, though there are blades that go back to the 9th century or before. Certain shapes and designs were reserved for specific ranks or classes of people. Kris knives were used in areas of the Philippines to Malaysia and many islands of Indonesia. The tradition in Java is, that every man should own at least one Kris knife. A Kris knife is more than a weapon.  Owning one affirms a man’s identity as a mature, responsible. Kris knives are considered sacred heirlooms, endowed with protective, positive magic for their owners. The maker of ancient blades was accorded the high status of a sage/priest because of the skill and magical powers used in the forging blades. Rituals at critical times in the making of these blades included fasting and prayers in order to achieve the alchemy of bonding iron to the nickel from meteorites to form specific patterns in the blade, called pamor.
There are people who collect only the handles.  The materials used for these handles varies from bone to ivory, wood to gold or gemstones. They are as old, creative, and wonderful as the blades themselves. The hilt and sheath are the final parts that whole a Kris “set.”
They protect the blade from damage both physical and magical, and shield others from the magic of the blade.  These amazing knives are to be experienced. Do come and see for yourselves.

People vs. Things

David "at home" with Javanese Artist, Lindu
David "at home" with Javanese Artist, Lindu

With every collector, every artist, every hunter, every family compound with something to sell, I am to some degree faced with a conflict.  The conflict revolves around paying attention to people versus things.  My work seems, on the surface, to be about buying “cool things.”  I am excited to look at the pieces offered, that’s what I’m there to do.  The truth is, I’m hopelessly and joyfully drawn to the quest for beautiful objects.  I hunger for beauty; finding it, enjoying it, being altered by it, and sharing it.  I’m also drawn to and intrigued by most people.

Here is my dilemma: when I’m at a collector’s home and see something that calls to me, I want to see it.  I’m a hunter.  I want to see the “game.”  I also don’t want to be rude or seen as a typical Westerner, always and only living in the material world.  What do I do?  I also know the real treasure may well be the relationship or what I learn from that collector, trader or artist, or the gift of friendship that develops over time.  Most things that matter are in some way built on relationship, but”building a relationship” is a strange, false sounding concept.  The reality of my world is that I am charged and recharged by emotion, the sense of kinship, being connected heart and soul to others, and friendship’s love.  This is the gold, the icing, and the cake.  I’m often stunned by how frequently and freely I’m given these gifts. I have momentary thoughts of unworthiness, but mostly, I live in amazed gratitude (when I’m not too hot, hungry, or lost).

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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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