Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Thailand's artisans have long been recognised for their superb craftsmanship and the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Dusit Palace sees a constant flow of visitors eager to admire the permanent display of delicate embroidered screens, carvings and other exquisite pieces, much of it displayed as part of the 2007 exhibition "Arts of the Kingdom V".
Now more breathtaking beauty is about to comes our way in "Arts of the Kingdom VI", which opens on December 2.
Last Tuesday at the Sirikit Institute inside Chitralada Villa, Thanpuying Supornpen Luangthepnimith, deputy private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen, opened the press conference by introducing the new institute, which was formerly known as the Support Training Centre at Chitralada Villa.
The centre has achieved great advances in its work, producing highly refined craft products that measure up to the work of Royal Craftsmen of the Ratanakosin period. It has also provided training to lacquer artisans, goldsmiths, silversmiths, gold engravers, colour enamellers, embroiderers, woodcarvers, and weavers, whose valuable works represent the identity and prestigious status of Thai refined arts and crafts and stand as part of the country's artistic heritage. In 2010, the government officially elevated the status of the Support Training Centre at Chitralada Villa to the fully-fledged Sirikit Institute.
"Nine masterpieces have been especially created for the sixth edition of the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition," Supornpen says.
They include a woodcarving on the literary theme of "Sangthong" and the mythical "Himmavanta" forest; an embroidered silk screen depicting scenes from "Inao" as well as gold nielloware screens portraying stories from the Ramakien. There are also two thrones - the three-tiered "Busabok" (pavilion throne) and a damascene inlay throne - as well as models of the royal boats "Sri Prapassornchai" and "Mongkol Suban". A gold nielloware poem about "Arts of the Kingdom" is also being crafted and a Jewel Beetle decoration and Embroidery room will also be highlighted.
"These new masterpieces are being produced by artisans from many of the Institute's departments. They require the work of extremely skilled artists and a high level of craftsmanship at the atelier," adds Supornpen, who is head of the Institute's working team.
An embroidered silk screen, for example, requires the deft hands of more than 143 craftsmen. It will depicts 18 scenes from "Inao" such as "Bussaba Lom Huan", "Bussaba Sieng Tien", and "Bussaba Chom Suan" and will be 9.61 metres long and 4.29 metres high. The neat ancient style of stitching known as pak soi is applied, with 250 shades of silk creating the dimensions and details. The silk screen also features the Lord of swans in various colours, as a tribute to Her Majesty, and the Garuda, the royal crest of His Majesty King Rama II, the author of the literary work. More than four years have gone into its production.
Likewise, 79 of the centre's woodcarvers have taken almost three years to finish the "Sangthong" and the mythical "Himmavanta forest" wooden screen, a double-sided work featuring the Sangthong story on its front and carved animals, among them elephants, illustrating the story of the Himmavanta forest on the back. The four main characters - Sangthong, Rojana, Kinnorn and Kinnaree - have been sculpted out of teak in life size dimensions and decorated with jewel beetles and will stand in front of the screen, itself 36 centimetres wide, six metres long 5.20 metres high.
Despite such amazing craftsmanship, Supornpen is quick to point out that the artisans are rarely fine-arts graduates.
"Her Majesty the Queen believes that there is an artist inside everyone. Even farmers or those without any formal education are capable of creating great masterpieces. Sirikit Institute has produced many highly skilled artisans and craftsmen and served as a centre for arts and crafts training for students from poor farming families who have gone on to produce countless beautiful works," she says.
"Her Majesty understands that teaching the theory of anatomy is not always possible. Therefore, so ensure that poor farmers are able to recreate the right emotions, she commands all the artists at Sirikit Institute to visit Dusit Zoo and observe the behaviour of animals!
And that's perhaps what makes the "Art of the Kingdom" exhibition is truly exceptional. "Visit other art museums and you see only the works of those who have gone before us. Here all our artists are still alive and all the artworks are handcrafted," Supornpen notes. "Support was set up more than three decades ago and today's Sirikit Institute has 23 departments with some 700 artists, who live and work with us. The youngest one receiving training is just 10 while the oldest is over 60.
"Arts of the Kingdom is an exhibition of works that represent the arts and craft traditions of the reign of King Rama IX. All these pieces are metal-based for durability, so that they will become a lasting testament to the artistic heritage of the Thai people," she concludes.
In Her Majesty the Queen will preside over the grand opening of the "Arts of the Kingdom VI" at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall on December 1.
The exhibition celebrates His Majesty the King's 84th birthday, the Queen's 80th birthday and HRH the Crown Prince's 60th birthday.