Today's post was written by FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones. As you'll find out in this post, Kevin frequently works outside the walls of the FIDM Museum. Traveling, whether to install exhibitions, attend conferences, or conduct research, is an important part of his job. Read on to learn more about Kevin's recent experiences attending "Weaving Royal Traditions Through Time," a conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Thanks to Kevin for documenting and sharing his journey!
October and November 2013 were very busy months for the FIDM Museum staff. Associate Curator Christina Johnson, former Collections Manager Danielle Killam, and I lived and worked in Bendigo, Australia, for three and a half weeks installing the Modern Love: Fashion Visionaries from the FIDM Museum LA exhibition. Immediately following our adventures Down Under, I had another exciting trip to Bangkok, Thailand, to attend the “Weaving Royal Traditions Through Time: Textiles and Dress at the Thai Court and Beyond” conference organized by colleagues Julia Brennan, Dale Gluckman, and Melissa Leventon. My route there was not a hop-skip-and-jump! Though it might have seemed judicious for me to fly directly from Australia, it was actually $3,000 cheaper to fly fifteen hours back to Los Angeles and, in less than twelve hours, fly back to the other side of the world again. Happily, I was also leading a tour to Thailand for members of the FIDM Museum Fashion Council, so for all of us to travel together was too much fun to pass up!
After a layover in Seoul, South Korea, our first destination was the Sampran Riverside Spa where we spent two relaxing days recouping from our flights and preparing for the conference days ahead. For those of you who attend multi-day conferences, you’ll understand how necessary this was! And I was treated to my very first spa experience…I must say, quite enjoyable. Along with relaxing treatments, we also learned about various Thai cultural traditions, such as Thai boxing, making orchid temple offerings, floral fruit carving, and, of course, silk spinning and weaving.
Onward we traveled into the heart of Bangkok, the vast capital city of Thailand. We stayed at the five star Dusit Thani Hotel, which means “The 5th Heaven”…and so it was, very luxurious. This is where the conference took place. More than 200 international attendees were treated royally, enjoying police escorts for our buses, sometimes even having an on-coming traffic lane closed off for our own use!
For those of you who have seen the 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, there was no Hollywood exaggeration in the movie sets that depicted the beauty and elaborate display of the Wat Pra Kaew temple complex containing the golden pagoda and the famous Emerald Buddha, nor the Grand Palace and Dusit Palace compound of thirteen royal residences. We had the privilege of visiting rooms in the palaces not opened to the general public. We traveled to the Vimanmek Mansion, summer residence of King Rama V (1868-1910) and the largest teak building in the world. Amazing! And, also, to the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which showcases the finest examples of modern Thai handicrafts from the SUPPORT workshops at Chitralada Palace, established in 1976 by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. Extraordinary embroideries are displayed, included one panel that took 142 embroiderers four years to complete! And there are multiple panels exhibited. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted.
In general, dress codes are enforced at all cultural sites, especially those associated with the Royal Family. Illustrated guides are posted, guards are ever present, and fines are levied for offending appearances. In our symposium packets, clothing guidelines were noted: “Ladies: a skirt that is knee-length or longer, a top with sleeves that cover the shoulders, and sandals with a strap or other covering of the heel” and “Men: long pants, sleeved shirts, and sandals with a strap.” These requests were easy enough to follow, but, for those who packed and arrived in Bangkok early, shopping for additional clothing proved necessary. Due to the passing of Thailand’s Supreme Buddhist Patriarch the weekend before the symposium commenced, we were asked to wear only subdued mourning colors, and most attendees opted for black.
The major highlight of our Thailand experience was visiting the new Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Located within the royal compound, this impressive nine-year project turned the former Ministry of Finance building—a 19th century structure—into a major repository of Thai identity and culture, specifically to assure the preservation of ancient and modern Southeast Asian, South Asian, and East Asian textile arts for future generations. We toured the library and education studio, the conservation laboratory and storage facilities, and two exceptional exhibitions: the first on the history of the Thai silk industry, and the second on Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s state wardrobe created for her by the House of Balmain between 1958 and 1992 using modern interpretations of traditional Thai silks patterns. This impressive wardrobe is described in the recent publication In Royal Fashion: The Style of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
Symposium attendees in front of the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest teak building in the world.
The symposium program was extensive. After attending “Etiquette Preparation” class, we were honored with a keynote presentation by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who talked of her mother Queen Sirikit’s work establishing SUPPORT and the new textile museum named in her honor. Additionally, forty presenters spoke on topics as varied as “Cambodian Textiles for the Court of King Rama V” (Weeradhamma Tragoonngoenthai and Anucha Thirakanont) to “A ‘Fairy-tale’ Gown in the Real World: The Conservation of the Bridal Ensemble of Princess Grace of Monaco” (Sara Reiter). Each evening we were treated to special events, including visits to private and corporate textile collections, a reception and performance at The Jim Thompson House, a visit to The Siam Society, and the exceptional farewell dinner hosted by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. The Thai Royal Family, the staff of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, and the organizers of the symposium are to be congratulated for creating an experience that will never be forgotten.
And where to next for the FIDM Museum Fashion Council? Florence, Italy, for “Costume Colloquium IV: Colors in Fashion” in November 2014. Details will be forthcoming over the next few months. Hope you’ll travel with us...