With a museum established and a book published, Runi Palar is a legendary jewelry designer who is known for her modern and sophisticated silver collection under the brand Runa Jewellery. A true believer in hard work and life-long learning, Runi did not have success served to her on a silver platter; she worked her way up from nothing. She talks to Indonesia Design about decades of illustrious journey in arts and craftsmanship.
Can you share your journey in a nutshell?
I used to be a dancer before I was a designer, and it gave me many opportunities to travel the world. I even met my husband, Adriaan, on one of my travels in 1964 New York. After I got married and had three kids, my husband and I realised that I needed a change of career, one where I can stay at home to take care of my kids. I should tell you that my father was the first Indonesian master silver craftsman back in the day. I had never thought of going into silver craftsmanship before, because back then it was a world dedicated to men. As a girl, I was only expected to dance and join the scout.
My husband encouraged me to try designing jewellery, but I didn’t know anything about the business, the market, or the technique. However, I don’t like to say no, I always want to try, and I did. We used silver instead of gold because we only had IDR 25,000 to start this. My days in the scout had taught me the art of crafts, working with my hands, it also ignited my love for nature, and all of these came handy when I started designing jewellery. The strong support I got from my husband, an interior design who studied visual arts himself, as well as his fellow artists from the Bandung Institute of Technology played a big part in my learning the skills.
I first got my hands in designing after I had my first child, and I went through quite a trial and error phase for a while. Initially I only had three designs, super modern – my favourite, ethnic style, and classic, and no one around me was interested! Ironically, the first enthusiasts of my jewellery were expatriates. Step by step I started to add more designs to the collection, creating a small gallery at home.
On my 30th birthday in 1976, my husband and I established CV Runa – which stands for Runi and Adriaan – and a year later, Runa Jewellery started to participate in exhibitions outside of Indonesia. I couldn’t go for the first one, as we were expecting our third child, so my husband went on my behalf, and it was successful. I started to feel more confident. My first overseas trip for Runa Jewellery was in 1977 to Brussels, Belgium. Over the years, I joined more exhibitions, gained recognition and accolades. We’re still going strong now, and we have the museum as well, and we started from zero.
You got a book titled “Dancing in Silver” published. Can you tell us a bit about this book and what it’s about?
The Chairperson of Dekranas (Indonesian National Arts and Crafts Council) at that time, Mufidah Jusuf Kalla, offered to publish and sponsor a book as a commemoration of my 40 years in the industry at that time. The book tells a story of my whole journey from nothing to something, including the curation of my crafts. Usually Dekranas-published books are in Indonesian, but for this I asked if I could have it in English, and written by an American art writer Bruce W. Carpenter. Dekranas agreed.
How did you land on modern jewellery style? Where do you look to for inspiration?
I find beauty in simplicity, I think less is more. Being a girl scout ignited my love for nature, and I’m always fond of flowers and foliage, and it inspired me a lot in designing. Once in a while, I draw inspirations from ethnic aesthetics, but my personal favourite will always be modern design.
It’s amazing that you have a museum in Indonesia. Tell us more about this.
My family and I have been living in Bali since the 1980s, but we moved to Ubud in 2001. That year to commemorate 25 years of our company, we decided to make a museum in our home in Ubud. With the museum opening on 29 December 2001, I feel really blessed by the overflowing support of the village and long-time friends. We even had great weather even though it was the rainy season. Somehow the Bali governor at the time offered to inaugurate the opening. Everything really fell into place. The museum showcases my crafts from year to year, displayed in a chronological order.
How is the artist scene in the 1960s when you started different from now?
Back then the art scene was limited to a few applied arts, before it expanded to more forms, such as interior design, or fashion design. It took time to accept and develop something new. I remember when I first started, most people still associated silver with eating utensils, not jewellery. Nowadays, you can use faux feathers or plastic to make accessories. It was a different time.
On another note, back in the day, it really took a lot of time, effort, and patience to learn arts and to make yourself as an artist. These days, people can just learn to design in three months from the internet, and call themselves an artist. It’s up to each of us to tell which one is the real artist, and which isn’t.
What have been the highlights of your 50-year career?
First, receiving the Upakarti Award for giving training and workshops to gemstone craftsmen, among other accolades. I got to travel the world for my crafts, including having my work showcased in Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, where my father’s works were also displayed. Other highlights include having a show at the Vienna Fashion Week in 2018 and 2019, being interviewed by Voice of America (VOA) when I was in Washington DC for an exhibition. In 2001, I was also supposed to do an interview with CNN in the US, but since I was committed to a solo exhibition in Tokyo, the interview was conducted at the Hong Kong CNN office before I went to Japan. Last but not least, my highlights are opening a museum in 2001, and of course, the book.
You’ve been in the industry for a long time. What do you still wish to see happen in the future for young artists, or even artists such as yourself?
I hope the young generation of artists understand the importance of hard work and perseverance in mastering the skills. You can’t stop learning, even I don’t stop. Don’t give up easily. Nothing great comes from anything instant. Your success can come tomorrow, or next year, but with hard work, your time will come.
I also hope the government or stakeholders can create more opportunities and policies that will help develop small and medium enterprises to be better, and to show more appreciation for talents and craftsmanship.
You must have overcome some challenges. What were those and how did you overcome them?
When I started my business, and it entered good markets in the US, Europe, and Asia, my friends told me not to try the Japanese market because it was difficult. I even failed when I first tried to sell my products in Japan. But it actually made me curious and took it as a challenge. I didn’t give up, and slowly but surely I learned a lot about the Japanese market and managed to get a place in the arts and crafts scene. Afterwards, I spent decades travelling to Japan for many successful exhibitions.
There will always be challenges, but for me challenges mean chances. If I get a rejection, I try to think that an opportunity is waiting not far ahead. Just try to face any difficulty with an open heart, don’t be afraid and find the solution.
What would you have done differently?
Nothing. I have done many things, but I don’t have regrets. Do anything without regret and without heaviness of heart.