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Phase II: Regional expansion


Project overview and objectives

The readiness for the Buddhist sangha in Nan to participate in this project was evident even sometime before the official project launch.  Already, documentation of temple architecture and arts were carried out, a roster of traditional craftsmen was collected, and the established branch of the Buddhist University for Monks in Nan has been identified as a secretariat for the documentation and training activities. More general awareness-raising efforts are also to be conducted, particularly in conjunction with the inclusion of Nan on Thailand’s Tentative List of World Heritage sites. Nan was initially further along the road to sustainability than other potential project sites. It provided the opportunity to learn more about how to “fast track” training in cultural preservation in communities where initial work has already begun.


Strong cooperation from local partners allows for a strategy of broad-based training programme delivered through a number of platforms. Local crafts overly exposed to outside influence and particularly those on the verge of dying out are targeted for immediate training. The Nan project focuses on four main objectives:  (1) crafts documentation of local production techniques and motifs; (2) revival within the lay and sangha communities of three local crafts (wood carving, lacquer and gilding, and molded decorative stucco); (3) general awareness raising amongst lay and sangha youth about traditional Buddhist arts and (4) preventative conservation skills within the sangha and temple communities. 


These objectives correspond with the documentation activities and four training curricula, respectively:  (1) short crafts revival curriculum, (2) long crafts revival curriculum, (3) preventative conservation curriculum for temple communities and (4) curriculum for students on general awareness.


Initial consultation has resulted in following objectives to implement the project in Nan:

  • establish institutional delivery platforms which will include the Buddhist monks secondary schools and university, vocational institutions, and non-formal education centres 
  • select Hands-on training subjects such as Lanna arts of gold leaf stenciling, woodcarving, mural painting, glass mosaic, lacquer work, and lime plaster molding. 
  • develop curricula of traditional Nan arts for training purpose within Buddhist monks and secular learning institutions and a further comprehensive version of the same curricular for raising greater awareness to monks, youth, as well as community members and local leaders  
  • upgrade trainer capacity of local crafspersons and teachers involving in training activities to maintain quality training programme
  • encourage provincial level sangha council and the government authority policy support which allows promotion and funding for cultural conservation to which effective training is vital particularly in the context of the growing tourism market


Project output to date  

Nan’s first documentation activity focuses on developing a cookbook on traditional production methods of the three selected Nan crafts, under the supervision of Mr. Somjate Wimolkasem of Satrisinan school, by conducting field research to interview local master craftspersons.  It was found that there are very few master craftspersons left in Nan -- two were interviewed on stucco, and three on wood carving (most wood carvers now specialize in carving wooden boats for Nan’s annual boat race, rather than temple elements).  Two of the wood carvers (a master-student team) were subsequently invited to serve as trainers in the crafts revival workshops.  Additional references are being provided by a craftsperson expert in Lanna (Northern Thai) arts from Chiang Mai.  This expert will also provide the techniques for gold-leaf decoration.


The second documentation activity focuses on developing a stylebook, under the supervision of Associate Professor ML Surasawasdi Sooksawasdi, Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty at Chiang Mai University.   Fourteen temples in seven districts were selected by virtue of the excellent arts and crafts heritage in their possession.  Digital photographs are being taken, and the distinctive Nan motifs were identified and reproduced as line drawings in the Adobe Illustrator program.


The third documentation activity focuses on developing an inventory of the Buddhist artifacts and outstanding temple decorative elements at the fourteen selected temples, under the supervision of the Nan National Museum.   The pilot temple was Wat Chang Kham, a prominent temple with a large and significant collection where the Nan Provincial Sangha Governor is based.   Based on the pilot, the inventory work has been expanded to Wat Nong Daeng and Wat Ton Laeng.  At the minimum, all fourteen temples are targeted for completion by the end of the project.


The training activities have included the following.  Two short training courses (40 hours) in crafts revival were organized.  The first course was held from 28 November – 2 December 2005, with 36 trainees (22 monks and novices and 14 lay persons).  The second course was conduced from 20-24 March 2006, with 36 persons (27 monks and novices and 9 laypersons connected to 7 temples).  The objective of the course was to raise awareness about the need to revive traditional Buddhist arts, to provide knowledge and fundamental skills on traditional techniques in stucco, wood carving and lacquer-gilding, and to show the links between Nan Buddhist arts and crafts and those in other Theravada countries.   The course met an enthusiastic response.  The most promising trainees were selected for participation in the long crafts training course.


The long crafts training course (800 hours total) commenced on 20 May 2006 with the first 300 hours (May-August 2006) providing an overall knowledge on Buddhist arts and drafts. This included topics about Southeast Asian culture and art, Lanna architecture and sculpture, Nan art, drawing, etc.  This will be followed by the remaining hours focused on hands-on crafts skills (250 hours) and advanced crafts production (250 hours) from October-December 2006.  Due to the length of the course, which was offered on a continuous basis, this proved to be difficult for the targeted number of monks from all fourteen priority temples to take part.  Instead of twenty, a total of twelve trainees (eleven monks and novices and one layperson) from eight temples in Nan took part, ranging from 14 to 57 years old, with an average age of 30.  All but one had prior background from the short crafts course and are both highly motivated and talented.  The publication of the training manual for this course will be useful for future training activities.


The training course in preventative conservation was held from 26-28 June 2006, with participation from 38 persons from thirteen temples (11 monks and 15 laypersons).  The objective of the course was to provide basic information on preventative conservation, especially to the fourteen priority temples.  The trainees were mostly highly satisfied with the training programme, suggesting that the training should be longer and held annually, extended to youth, and include a survey of the inventory work done by the temples.  The publication of the training manual used in the course is the next step, which will also be useful for other sites in Cambodia, China and Lao PDR.


Preparations for the final course on general awareness-raising are being undertaken now, using materials produced by the documentation activities of the project.  Teachers from 35 secondary schools throughout the province will take part in a series of workshops from November 2006 to March 2007, which will result in the curriculum and the teaching materials and aids.  The curriculum will be offered with the beginning of the next academic year in May 2007.