Upon entering the Threads of Life gallery, and looking to the left, a strikingly modern batik is usually hanging full-length on the far wall. Made in the traditional natural-dye colors of central Java by the artisans at a batik studio in the city of Solo, the designs being employed have taken tradition and spun it on its head! The force behind all this creativity, intended to keep a traditional batik studio going in between orders from the Surakarta palace’s royal family, was Lou Zeldis, an American artist of exceptional talent and a human of unusual kindness.

Lou loved playing with the intersection of circles and lines: starbursts were a motif he often explored. And he liked expressing the ordinary in thought provoking ways: a field of black-and-white checks, but with one white square missing somewhere, so that you only noticed it the third or fourth time you looked at the cloth. A series of pieces I admired (as a mathematics graduate) was his Pi works. Starting in the top left corner in tightly spaced but neat rows, the decimal numerals for the esoteric number Pi filled the cloth: 3.14159265358979323846… You get the idea. And Lou would check the work for the batik artists’ cellphone numbers, suspecting them of including the kind of visual surprise he so loved. At the foot of each cloth in the curling traditional script of Java, the names of all the batik artists were listed, followed by Lou’s name and the year. He always gave credit where credit was due.

Lou died of cancer earlier this month. His zest for life, his generosity, and his way of making you see the beauty in things you’d never noticed before, will all be sadly missed.

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