Thu, 26 Oct 2000

Suharmanto turns used cans into sculptures

By Singgir Kartana

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Nobody likes used cans, especially if they are waste. Besides, this kind of waste do not decay easily.

If you have a pile of used milk cans, oil cans, beer cans or other cans, you actually can use them as raw material for creating unique souvenirs. At least, Suharmanto, 40, has proven it.

Suharmanto, a father of four, lives in Piyungan, Tirtosari in Sawangan district, Magelang, Central Java. He has succeeded in turning used cans into sculptures of fowls and other animals. His work include sculptures of burung cendrawasih (the bird of paradise), kuntul (tailless fowl), itik (duck) and singa (lion). The statues are made in various sizes, usually between 15 cm and 30 cm high. He also has a life-sized sculpture of a lion.

A graduate of junior high school, he began his sculpture business in 1985. He had found a mouse-bitten hole in his wooden toolkit in a workshop where he worked. So, he cut out a small piece of a used oil can with a pair of scissors to patch the hole in the wooden toolkit.

Then, out of fun, he cut the remaining can lengthwise into narrow strips. To his surprise, these strips looked like chicken feathers. That was when the idea struck him to make sculptures of feathered animals from used cans. So Suharmanto experimented by making sculptures of various kinds of fowls from pictures.

Finally, he managed to create a nice sculpture of the burung garuda (a mythical bird), the country's national bird. He decided to turn his skill into a business and began to recruit several neighbors to help him make his dream come true.

With a hundred thousand rupiah in hand to buy raw materials, Suharmanto, currently the village chief of Tirtosari, started his handicraft business.

In the beginning, he had to handle nearly everything himself, from designing to marketing the products. His first pieces were marketed door-to-door in Magelang. After a year, he began to receive orders. People then began to learn about his products. By 1996, his products began to enter the Netherlands.

He recruited additional workers as the number of orders grew. Fortunately, he had no problems collecting cans or other materials such as boards, nails, putty, metal glue, wires or paint to create his sculptures.

Presently 18 young men from his village are helping him run his business. Some of them work on a daily basis while others are on contract. Each daily worker working from eight in the morning to four in the evening earns Rp 7,000 per day while contract workers receives Rp 10,000 per sculpture.

Suharmanto said it took two weeks to complete a life-sized lion sculpture which needed seven half-kilogram milk cans to make.

Yanto, a contract craftsman said: "On average, I can earn Rp 75,000 per month. It's not bad, doing something is better than being unemployed. Besides, my workplace is close to my home so there's no need for me to pay for transportation."

To produce animal sculptures from used cans, the animal's body is first shaped with wire. The cans are then cut lengthwise to form 4-centimeter wide plates. The plates are then cut, with scissors, into narrow strips resembling the fowl feathers. Using pincers, the scissor-cut thin plates are then twisted three times so that it will resemble the animal's feathers. The twisted plates are then tied to each other, according to the shape of the animal. When the sculpture is completed, it is painted.

In a month, a craftsman can produce an average of 300 pieces of fowl sculptures of various sizes.Generally about 80 percent of the sculptures produced are sold immediately, while the rest are sometimes sold the following month.

Special pieces like the life-sized lion sculpture can fetch Rp 8 million, while the cheapest, heron sculptures, are sold at Rp 65,000 each. On average, the monthly sales turnover almost exceeds Rp 20 million and of that amount, the profits range from 10 percent to 15 percent.

The statues made out of used cans are marketed in Bali, Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta and as far as Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and the Netherlands. However, since foreign clients buy the products based on order, the crisis has slowed down his overseas' sales.

Suharmanto's business, however, is not properly promoted. Up to now, there is no single brochure providing information about his products.

"Besides poor marketing, the craftsmen are slow in developing new designs. All these time they have been using the same designs," said Munajib, 40, a Sawangan resident who collects some of Suharmanto's products.

As the production of these handicrafts leave small pieces of metal waste that can be harmful to the environment, Suharmanto collects and sells them to recycling plants at Rp 50 per kilogram. His concern and efforts has earned him several awards, including one from Central Java's provincial administration in 1995.