World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

Decorative Arts

Thai decorative arts range from ceramics and lacquerwork to jewelry and textiles. Precious, finely crafted objects were often created for royalty and monastic complexes. Wats (temples) remain the best places to see Thai decorative art.

Thai artists excelled at making pottery early in their nation's history. A burgeoning ceramics industry developed in the central Thai kingdom of Sukhothai, which rose to prominence in the thirteenth century CE. Kilns were established near the city and in nearby Si Satchanalai, where stoneware pottery known as sawankhalok was made.


SAWANKHALOKPOTTERY

Typical sawankhalok products included dishes, bowls, lidded boxes, bottles, vases, figurines, and small animals. Some vessels were decorated with a subtle greenish glaze called celadon and others with a range of brown designs featuring the fluid forms of fish, birds, and other subjects drawn from nature. The kilns also produced building materials, such as roof tiles and balusters (vase-shaped supports), and architectural ornaments. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, large quantities of sawankhalok pottery were exported, particularly to the Philippines and Indonesia, but by the middle of the sixteenth century, successive Burmese invasions brought production to a halt.


LACQUERWARE

Lacquerwork has long been a highly valued art form in Thailand. The technique probably originated in China and is thought to have spread to Thailand by the Sukhothai era (from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries). Most Thai lacquerware is black and is decorated with designs in gold leaf. It is made by applying and polishing successive coats of a slowdrying plant resin to create a hard, smooth, black surface onto which a design is transferred. A water-soluble yellow ink is used to cover those parts of the design that are to remain black. A final layer of lacquer is then applied, and while it is still sticky, squares of

This intricate decoration in mother-of-pearl on the
soles of the feet of the reclining Buddha at Wat Po,
Bangkok, depicts animals, plants, and events from
the life of the Buddha
.

gold leaf are pressed over the entire surface. When the lacquer has hardened, water is used to rinse away the unwanted gold, which comes off with the water-soluble ink.

Lacquer has traditionally been reserved for only the most precious objects due to the cost and skill involved in making it. It was used to decorate chests and cupboards that stored valuable textiles and Buddhist manuscripts, and to adorn doors and window shutters in palaces and temples. From the eighteenth century, Thai decorative artists also used lacquer inlaid with mother-of-pearl to decorate furniture and other objects.


JEWELRY AND TEXTILES

With natural deposits of gold, silver, and gems. Thailand has a long history of jewelry making. Thai gold- and silver smiths are renowned for working in a variety of techniques, including repousée, filigree, enameling, and niello, which involves inlaying a design with a black enamel-like alloy. One of the country's greatest treasures is a horde of gold objects found in the ruins of Wat Phra Mahathat in Ayutthaya in the 1950s. Dating from around the fifteenth century, they include necklaces, armlets, bracelets, bangles, rings, a crown, a miniature chedi (a structure for religious relics), and boxes, the most splendid of which is in the form of a kneeling elephant. All are encrusted with rubies, emeralds, and other gems. Jewelry making continues to thrive in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok and in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Thailand is also renowned for its textiles, particularly silks. Traditional woven cloth features designs that signify its wearer's origins and their status, often in the form of an elaborately patterned panel at a garment's hem. The hill peoples of north and western Thailand also create beautiful and highly distinctive textiles and jewelry.

R. BEAN

-683-

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Country Locator for Volume 5 Myanmar and Thailand i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Geography and Climate 580
  • The Land of Myanmar and Thailand 582
  • Geology of Myanmar and Thailand 590
  • Climate of Myanmar and Thailand 594
  • Flora and Fauna of Thailand and Myanmar 598
  • History and Movement of Peoples 602
  • Sukhothai and Ayutthaya 604
  • Later Burmese Kingdoms 608
  • British Intervention in Burma 610
  • Peoples of Myanmar and Thailand 612
  • Myanmar (Burma) 614
  • Government 618
  • Modern History 620
  • War and Independence 623
  • Independent Burma 626
  • Modern Myanmar 628
  • Cultural Expression 630
  • Art and Architecture 632
  • Music and Performing Arts 636
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 638
  • Food and Drink 640
  • Daily Life 642
  • Family and Society 644
  • Welfare 646
  • Yangon (Rangoon) 648
  • Naypyidaw 650
  • Mandalay 651
  • Moulmein 652
  • Pegu 653
  • Economy 654
  • Thailand 662
  • Government 666
  • Modern History 668
  • Siam in Transition 670
  • The Age of Reform 672
  • War and Military Rule 674
  • Modern Thailand 676
  • Cultural Expression 678
  • Art and Architecture 680
  • Decorative Arts 683
  • Music and Performing Arts 684
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 687
  • Food and Drink 688
  • Daily Life 690
  • Family and Society 693
  • Health, Welfare, and Housing 695
  • Education 697
  • Bangkok 698
  • Chiang Mai 703
  • Nakhon Ratchasima 704
  • Udon Thani 705
  • Economy 706
  • Further Research 716
  • Index 718
  • World and Its Peoples 722
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