Traditional Thai art and handicraft skills have been passed from generation to generation within communities, some of which are centuries old. Some of these centers of Thai art have survived; others are in danger of going extinct owing to the pressures of modern development.
What are the forms of Thai art still left and what are in danger of going extinct? What measures are being taken to preserve this cultural heritage?
These traditional Thai paintings are forms of Thai art that are still preserved as evident in an art exhibition in Bangkok.
Besides the different Thai silk designs from the different regions of Thailand, other works include silverware, finely engraved neilloware, pottery and lacquerware.
These are products of the royally sponsored SUPPORT Foundation for traditional Thai art and handicraft.
The SUPPORT Foundation was initiated by HM Queen Sirikit to help the rural population augment their meager incomes and to preserve the skills in traditional arts and craft. A center was established within the grounds of Chitralada Palace where teachers pass these skills to students from the rural areas all at royal expense.
On graduation, these students return to their native provinces to start cottage art industries. During royal tours of the rural areas, villagers present their products to the royal staff who assess the value and pay the villagers for their work. Sometimes this can be equivalent to a year's work on the farm.
These products are then sold at Chitralada outlets in Bangkok and other major cities. Proceeds are channeled to maintain the foundation. Displays of Thai art can also be viewed at the Queen's Gallery in Ratchadamnoen Klang opposite Fort Mahakarn.
In this way, the rural artisan is relieved of the burdens of retailing of his products. He merely concentrates on his craft, confident that he'll get a fair price.
There's wide array of traditional Thai art for sale in Narayana Phand, a joint venture between the Thai government and private enterprise. This outlet is located opposite the Central World Plaza in Ratchadamri Road.
Other traditional Thai art centers are started by private efforts; individuals or communities keen on preserving the arts. A prominent example would be Thai silk and Jim Thompson comes to mind. Please see Jim Thompson outlets in Bangkok.
Thai handloom at Ban Krua
The traditional Thai art center Ban Chang Thai or the House of Thai Artisans, preserves the art of puppet making, painting and miniature Khon masks. The center is also renowned for Muay Thai, popularly known as Thai boxing. To get there, please see the map to Ban Chang Thai.
Classical puppets at Ban Chang Thai
Another form of traditional Thai art is the colorful Khon masks and headgear worn by the various characters in the masked Khon Dance. The artisans in Ban Silpa Thai (House of Thai Art) Thonburi who make these Khon masks have achieved national acclaim for their craftsmanship.
However, the Khon mask makers in the Saphan Mai community weren't so lucky. This community of artisans has almost disappeared, save for one man, to make way for a condominium development.
The Ban Laos community of bamboo flute makers a 200 year old community from Laos, has preserved their traditional skills in making woodwind instruments to this day. To visit Ban Laos, please see the map to the bamboo flute makers.
Thai bronzeware is made by a two century old community of artisans in Ban Bu.
The community suffered a severe setback in early 2006 when the retail outlet and several other homes were burnt to the ground.
Luckily the factory was undamaged and in March 2007, I learnt that they have reopened for business.
A practical form of woodcraft is carpentry for home décor products like engraved doors, sculptured door knobs, panels and cornices. The carpenters in Soi Pracha Rat 24 have crafted home décor to a fine art.
Benjarong ceramics got its name from the five (benja) colors black, white, red, green and yellow in the floral designs. Initially produced in China based on Thai designs, Benjarong was the tableware of royalty. By the early 20th century, production was completely done in Thailand.
The art gallery in the Siam Heritage Hotel displays the works of budding Thai artists. These works, which include paintings, pottery, wood and sandstone sculptures, are also for sale.
Traditional Thai art and handicraft is the life and soul of Thai cultural heritage. Preserving this heritage in our rapidly changing world will be society's biggest challenge!
ADD TO YOUR SOCIAL BOOKMARKS: Blink Del.icio.us Digg
Furl Google Simpy Spurl Technorati Y! MyWeb
Go to top of Traditional Thai art