In Thimphu our Bhutanese guide Jigme took us to the School of Fine Arts and Crafts, commonly known as the Painting School. Here students undergo a 6-years training course in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to walk into the classrooms and take pictures.
The thirteen crafts are:
1. Carpentry (temples, houses and other utilities made out of wood. In traditional Bhutan, a carpenter is the chief architect in building houses and palaces.
2. Masonry (stupa’s, walls of houses and monasteries).
3. Wood carving (pillars, beams, furniture, slate carving, wooden blocks for the printing of prayer flags).
4. Painting (Thangka paintings which is a Buddhist painting on cotton, or silk appliqué, mandala’s, wall frescoes, furniture, altars).
5. Clay sculpture (statues, masks).
6. Casting of bronze statues, bells, musical instruments such as cymbals.
7. Wood turning, the craft of turning bowls from special parts of trees, and the making of wooden cups, serving dishes, water jugs.
8. Black-smithing (swords, knives and other agricultural implements).
9. Gold- and silver smithing (ornaments, ritual objects like offering bowls, building of stupas, butter lamps and musical instruments).
10. Bamboo works (bow and arrow used for archery, lunch pack baskets, bamboo hats, matting, storage boxes).
11. Paper making.
12. Tailoring and embroidery (Thangkas, clothes, banners, decorative shoes).
13. Weaving (preparation and dyeing of yarn in different colours and shades with vegetable dyes, and finally weaving in clothes used by both men and women).
Later we went to the Paper Factory. We could see the whole process, from pulling off the bark from the Daphne Papyri tree, how the bark is being boiled, mashed into pulp, and vertical dried as sheets of handmade paper.
About 1500 times a day, one by one, and all by hand, a wooden frame with a bamboo screen filter is dipped into a vat of pulp and starch mixture, is swished around to allow a thin layer of the mixture to spread out evenly over the screen, and is transferred to a table where the screen is carefully removed to result in a single sheet of Bhutanese paper. Raw materials, supplied from bark from two trees, are used to make the paper. Nature provides other flora as ingredients, like flowers, leaves (marihuana!) and fern leaves, which make decorations on the paper. Paper making is done without any environmental harm to the land, and without the use of chemicals.
Finally that day we paid a visit at the National Library.
The Main Building is built in the form of a traditional Bhutanese temple in order to provide an appropriate environment for the Buddhist scriptures and other ancient texts. The structure of the building, we were told, integrates the three aspects of the Buddha and his teachings and it is therefore considered to be a sacred place. The physical (sku) aspect of the Buddha is represented by statues and paintings decorating the inside of the building; the speech (gsung) aspect of the Buddha is represented by the many books and printing-blocks found in the library; and the mind or heart (thugs) aspect of the Buddha is represented by the eight stupas found on the altar on the ground floor of the building.
In the back right corner of the reading room is a showcase containing a copy of the world’s largest published book “Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom”, which has many stunning photographs of Bhutan taken by Michael Hawley on four extensive trips to the country. The book weighs over 60 kilos, and is about 152cm x 213 cm (i.e. 120 lbs, five by seven feet) in size.