In Conversation with the Creative Force Behind Mary Justice Designs

Panthera Tray showing a Clouded Leopard on a branch

LM: What is the inspiration behind the different collections?
MJT: For the Panthera Collection, the inspiration is the Clouded Leopard; the least well-known species of the big cats, and arguably it’s most endangered. I loved its incredible attributes like being able to scale a tree with its tail. Despite persevering for some time, I didn’t manage to spot this divine creature, but I did observe its natural habitat in the typically bucolic lowland Sumatran rainforest. The broken tree portrayed in this painting symbolises deforestation, the primary cause of this rare beast’s diminishing population.

I was on a research and dive trip to the Banda Seas in the heart of the Maluku province and was able to visit Run Island. It sparked my imagination to portray the metamorphosis of Indonesia as it escaped the burden of owning a commodity more valuable than the gold of its day. In the illustration, you see a butterfly coming out of its cocoon and taking flight.

Mary Justice Designs Simian Collection trays

For my Certainly Simian Collection, I spent a week in Borneo on a “Klotok” (wooden boat) on the rivers of Kalimantan and getting up close and personal with the endangered orang-utans, including going off course and into the forests to observe their behaviour.

I fell in love with this family of rare white-handed gibbons known as Lars gibbons as they are so gentle in their manners and ways. I learnt that White-Handed Lars are colour-blind so indifferent to their mates’ colouring and mostly monogamous. I loved their style and their beautiful markings of white-gloved hands and feet, and this inspired me to create the series in this collection.

Mary Justice Designs Flights of Fancy tableware collection

The Flights of Fancy Collection arose from my obsession with the Bird of Paradise as one of the most extraordinary birds in the world and my once in a lifetime encounter with this rare bird. While in West Papua, I hiked up a mountain before dawn on my birthday and as luck would have it spotted one! In this case; a Wilson, doing its mating dance at sunrise. It was a breath-taking moment I wanted to immortalise in art.

Deep Ocean Collection removable hand painted tray

The Deep Ocean Collection came about from my love of the underwater world which is truly magnificent. I’m a very keen diver and when you consider that 71% of our world is the ocean and 80% of that is unmapped and unexplored it kind of blows my mind. Do you know that a new species is discovered almost daily in the ocean?

I always say “God never gets it wrong and the colour combinations.” Under the ocean, colour combinations that one might think are grotesque always work magnificently. I’ve done a lot of research on ocean life, and I can no longer eat Calamari! Squids are incredibly smart, and Cuttlefish are beyond human and alien, and in all of their camouflage techniques, they can even count!

Normally April is my month to unplug and to do a two-week dive in the archipelago, I digitally detox and it really is my idea of total luxury.

I have been diving with Valerie Taylor, one of the world’s greatest divers on the Seven Seas boat which her nephew owns. She has been given an OBE for her work with sharks and conservation and at 85 still does two dives a day. She did the filming of “Jaws”. She is a remarkable lady, and we shared a birth together. What a trip, that was! I have also gone diving with the great explorer of Indonesia, Lawrence Blair, who did the “Ring of Fire” series. It’s my great escape.

Hand carved wooden wine bucket

LM: So far, you have concentrated your debut collection on Tilt-Top Tables, Butler and Nesting Trays, Folding Tables and Lazy Susan’s. Do you plan to expand this range in the future?
MJT: We are forever creating and designing, and our next exciting news is our home accessories range which we have been working on and will release for the Christmas Gift Season. We recently launched our first home accessories item which are beautifully carved wine buckets which are shaped like an underwater coral triangle and hard-carved from FSC-certified teak wood. We look at our customers as collectors who are keen to add and enhance their existing artwork with items that compliment it in the same themes we have used.

LM: Can you describe the creative process behind your work?
MJT: Our process is long and complex, and there are only a few people in the world who are able to do the kind of work our Master Artists and Craftsmen do. There is such meticulous attention to detail and as we use no machinery at all. It is very labour and time-intensive. Each piece takes up to four weeks to complete. Our tilt-top design is the first of its kind where it is a multifunctional piece of furniture. When not in use it can be fashioned into an upright work of art.

The creative process has been years in the making and deeply researched with my voyages and explorations throughout Indonesia over 15 years. My concepts are hand-drawn and water-coloured in the studio by an in-house artist. The original drawings are then carefully painted by Master Indonesian artists onto gesso treated wood, a Renaissance technique from the 16th century, which takes 9-12 strokes of paint to create the equivalent of one paint stroke on a canvas.

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In Conversation with the Creative Force Behind Mary Justice Designs 2

Ong Chin Huat

Luxurious Magazine Reporter

Having been the social editor of the Hong Kong edition of Tatler and as well as writing a twice-weekly column in Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, Chin has met and interviewed a variety of people including business tycoons, supermodels, movie stars, royalty and world-class athletes. He also considers himself privileged to have attended some of the most talked about events and parties around the world. Chin counts art, fashion, food, interior design, literature, painting and travel among his passions.

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