We had the good fortune to be invited to the opening night of a new textile exhibition at the Bank of Thailand Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Dec. 20, 2013 — “Spectacular Textiles of Nan River Basin.” And spectacular they are, as was the evening’s show.
Guests arrrived in their finery — dressed in elaborate, handwoven textiles from Nan province, Lanna textiles (from Northern Thailand) and beyond. We enjoyed local food — noodles of all sorts, bananas roasted over a fire and glazed with pineapple and coconut, sweetened sesame sticky rice balls and other delicacies served in small bowls made from dried leaves secured with hand-carved toothpicks, along with fruit drinks served in cups made from segments of bamboo.
Our focus this trip is to spend more time learning about and appreciating traditional textiles in this region. It was great to see so many young people at the exhibition opening, as without their interest, these traditions face an uncertain future.
Guests in their beautiful clothing smile for each other’s cameras.
From the exhibition catalogue:
"The people in the Nan River Basin consist mainly of the ethnic Tai Yuan, Tai Lao and Tai Lue, who have a distinctive culture and identity. Cultural exchange usually occurs through kinship, trade, way of life, beliefs and religion which are shared among the groups. This has resulted in an impressive cultural blend reflected in some interesting handicrafts, especially the woven textiles in Nan and Uttaradit provinces.
"The Museum of the Bank of Thailand, Northern Region Office, as an organization supporting the preservation of the national heritage, has collected a number of valuable ancient textiles which have been specially selected for this exhibition with the hope of preserving, disseminating and sustaining the textile heritage of the Nan River Basin for public benefit and the advancement of the study of Tai/Thai textiles."
Most of the pieces shown are pha sin, or tube skirts, the major article of clothing for Tai women in the past. These are still worn on many cultural occasions and during festivals. Other pieces include shoulder cloths for men and women, and cloths for sitting at temple.
Temple murals abound throughout Thailand, often showing daily life and culture.
The museum houses several, beautiful, wooden displays of local life, including the making of textiles and the use of textiles as money. This woman is using a Lao-style spinning wheel to create cotton yarn. Other wooden tools and basketry are part of the process too.
We particularly enjoyed the traditional dance pieces throughout the evening.