By Eric Lim
The Bangkok Dolls Museum is one big doll house full of antique collector dolls made by a master doll maker who has refined the art of doll making for the preservation of the culture and tradition.
The museum is the brainchild of Khunying Thongkorn Chanthawimol, who trained as a doll maker in the Ozawa Doll School, Tokyo Japan.
Set up in 1956, the museum has a doll collection of more than 400 Thai hand-made dolls from local material.
The quality of the dolls in the Bangkok Dolls Museum is well known to doll collectors and connoisseurs the world over. Accolades for Khunying Thongkorn and her Bangkok dolls include
There are two sections in the dolls museum; the outer room consists of antique and collector dolls which are not for sale, dolls displayed in the inner room are for sale.
Doll displays cover aspects of rural life in Thailand, the Khon dance drama, Thai hill tribes of northern Thailand, Thai traditional costumes from the Ayuthaya, Sukhothai and Bangkok eras.
There’s also a section on collector dolls in traditional costumes from almost every country in the world: Austria, Belgium, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Hungary, India, Japan, Laos, Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and the USA to name a few.
Dolls are made with painstaking attention to details in costume designs and doll houses. The Bangkok Dolls Museum doesn’t just display individual dolls but dolls in scenes depicting life in rural Thailand, farmers at home, at work in the fields or children at play.
The morning scene of life in a riverside village with monks passing in boats to collect alms as food vendors sell their wares in boats is one example. Others are of farmers working in the fields and rural folk from the various provinces participating in traditional folk dances during festivities.
An attractive display is that of the various hill tribes in their colourful traditional costumes going about lives in their villages.
The scene that was really touching was the Nativity scene in a traditional Thai setting!
The centerpiece of the Bangkok Dolls Museum is the comprehensive doll collection of the various characters in the Khon dance drama based on the Ramakien.
The array of Khon dolls in the Ramakien, with the forces of good and the forces of evil deployed in battle, is an impressive display taking up an entire wall.
The miniature Khon masks are another fascinating example of the skills of the doll makers. If making the elaborate life-sized version is difficult enough, just imagine making the miniature.
The Bangkok Dolls Museum encapsulates invaluable aspects of Thai traditional life and culture as a legacy for generations to come.
I returned to the Dolls Museum on 27 May 2009, to take these pictures. It was more than four years since my first visit. The place hasn’t changed one bit. It was just like when I first saw it more than four years ago.
I was told by a staff member that Khunying Thongkorn is now in her 90s and spends her time at home. The doll project that she has started goes on.