Stutterheim’s Mistress

I’ve spent a few afternoons over the last 2-3 weeks reading through more of the Claire Holt archives housed in the Cornell Libraries.

There are lots of great things to discover here.  These afternoons, I thumb through boxes full of labeled file folders.  Found within is every possible thing leftover from her research – photographs, negatives, lecture notes, travel diaries, and letters, as well as number of other kinds of documents.

I have found a number of great things for my own interests in these folders.  High on this list is a small notebook with 6x6cm contact prints pasted to the ruled pages, each listing the names of those found in the pictures.  Flipping through the pages, it’s clear she used these photographs and notes to learn names and the social structure of a village – in Sumatra, if I am not mistaken – where she was conducting some research.

I also found an exhibition catalog from The 1st International Photosalon of Indonesia.  The exhibition was held in Bandung, 13-19 of July, 1956.  The pictures were unremarkable, typically of any amateur competition.  Though the document itself was interesting, as a marker of both the social changes leading to national independence, and the growing role photography was assuming in the urban centers of Java.

I also found one file folder packed with dozens of typewritten pages filled with artist biographies (many of these are included in the appendix of wonderful work Art in Indonesia:  Continuities and Change).  The biographies are 1-3 pages in length, and offer information on birth and early family life, education, work experience, and exhibitions for each of the artists.

In a folder marked Dance Research, I found a newspaper clipping from the 1960’s about the national ban on the teenage dance craze, the cha-cha-cha.  Sukarno himself came forward as being anti cha-cha-cha, and felt the Indonesian people and nation should actively promote the traditional folk dances of the islands.

I found documents about the opening of ASRI Jogja (today known as ISI Yogya) in the 1950’s.  Documents about a show of Affandi’s paintings at Cornell.

Of equal interest are the parts of Holt’s biography as revealed from all the letters and correspondences archived in these boxes.

Within the letters are traced a number of different relationships – with the development and founding of different Asian Cultural Councils in the United States; exchanges about working and editing the manuscripts that eventually became her seminal text; and even letters and invitations leading to her dinner with Lyndon Johnson at the White House.

The letters I found most interesting on a personal and biographical level, however, were exchanges between the Mangkunegaran and Willem Stutterheim.  The Mangkunegaran is an extension of the royal family living in Solo, Central Java.  These letters talk about her work, and some of her struggles with depression.  They also offer a glimpse into the long cultivated relationships it took to develop her research.

The letters exchanged with Willem Stutterheim – a Dutch born archeologist – offer a look into what seems like an elicit affair; Holt was his mistress.  Stutterheim was a fellow Indonesianist, married with one child.  The two met while doing field work.  Some of the letters deal with Holt’s internal conflict about her work and her love, and not wanting to sacrifice her independence and ambitions.

At least the fragments I’ve read make it seem this way.


6 thoughts on “Stutterheim’s Mistress

  1. My grandmother Clare lived with Stutterheim in Indonesia for ten years. She left her son, my father, with her parents in Riga (partially because she felt he would struggle living in this scandalous situation). In 1939, she went to get my Jewish father out of Riga and to the safety of America. Though she tried to get her lover to leave Indonesia, he remained to perish in a Japanese concentration camp there.

    1. thanks for the comment – with just a few letters to read, i had to fill in the rest with my imagination. your grandmother was a great, great woman, a hero of mine truthfully…….

      1. I have since learned that She met Stutterheim very soon after arriving in Bali. She was planning to travel the world, but was visiting briefly with Walter Spies, and Stutterheim was there because he and Spies were friends. If you want more information, you can read the book Sitting At The Feet Of Gurus by Deena Burton. It is about my grandmother. It is not brilliantly written, but it does have a lot of interesting information.

  2. Also, she did spend years apart from him working and traveling to demonstrate Indonesian dance and give talks. Stutterheim’s wife would not give him a divorce.

    1. Thanks for your comments! I have read Deena Burton’s biography, and have indeed learned more about their relationship. I also just read a splendid biography on Walter Spies. There is no judgement on my part – Claire Holt is one of my heroes, and will have some photographs in an exhibition I am organizing at Cornell! With some colleagues at Cornell, I am also helping to organize a conference at Cornell, done in part to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her book.

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