Monday, August 20, 2007
Craft, For Every Sense
I love Thai craftsmanship. I love it even more because in Thailand, beautiful, hand-made objects are owned and valued not just by the rich. The façade of the humblest rural wat is intricately carved in teak and other fine woods, hand painted, and overlaid with gold-leaf. Skillful wood and stone carvings – mostly of Buddha or dragons, for the tourist market – and hand-embroidered fabrics are sold by street vendors for a few baht. Phuang malai, delicately scented, threaded garlands of flowers, are everywhere: draped over ornate phra phum – spirit houses – or hung from rear vision mirrors of beat-up trucks and taxis. I've been following the construction of an Polynesian-inspired catamaran (or sea-going double canoe, as its English designer calls it) via a blog titled A Tiki In Thailand. With hulls hand-laid with cedar strip-planking and epoxy by Thais at a yard run by an Italian master boat-builder in the jungle sout-east of Pattaya, the 39-foot vessel is capable of sailing round the world but it looks like an artwork to me. Large, sculptural and seemingly animate, I can almost smell the cedar, along with the aged rosewood trim and teak decks. On the stemheads of both hulls, carved in timber and overlaid with fiberglass, are stylised fish-hook shapes based on the hei matau, a traditional Maori symbol usually carved in greenstone or bone and worn around the neck, said to bring "prosperity, fertility and safe passage over water".