Resurrecting the Legacy of Thai Craftsmanship

Within the glorious lineage of Thai craftsmanship is a treasured tradition that has survived the vicissitudes of time, engendering, through the dexterity and skill of Thai artisans of yore, the artifact pictured above, which will be featured in the inaugural Timed Auction of 2023.

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From earthenware to stucco art, there are many types of traditional Thai crafts. This piece belongs to a class of Thai lacquerware called “rak samuk”, nowadays a rarefied art form few Thai people are familiar with. Indexed within the “10 Divisions of Thai Artisans”— a slight misnomer, for there are a total of 29 distinct disciplines within the purview of classical Thai crafts, all of them edging towards extinction—  “rak samuk” is a decorative art: that is, it is a method of beautifying and stylizing all manner of objects with intricate ornamentation.

Though the survival of the roots of Thailand’s artistic heritage continues to hang in the balance, the wisdom with which Thai artisans of antiquity shaped the bounty of nature to their will still surrounds their present-day descendents in abundance. From sculptures of the Buddha’s visage, the expressive faces of Thai puppets, “Khon” masks and traditional headdresses to household ornaments and objects, a diverse cross-section of traditional Thai wares carry traces of the tradition of “rak samuk”.

The technical dimension of this decorative art form is complex and intricate, and demands great skill and experience. The prelude to the decorative process is the manufacture of ‘rak samuk’ lacquer, which is made out of a paste of pounded charcoal, derived from burnt banana leaves and grass, simmered in a mixture of rak resin, dhamma and red lime bricks at a specific temperature. Then follows the decorative technique known as “kra nae lai” (from the verb “kra nae”, which means ‘to embellish), wherein the liquid ‘rak samuk’ is left to cool and congeal into a pliable material that can be sculpted with myriad tools or pressed into molds that, once hardened, can be skillfully removed to create intricate sculptures. Additionally, the “rak samuk” can be applied to localized sections of an object and shaped into beautiful embellishments, or used as a base that enhances the colors of pigmented powders or the finishing touch of gold leaf.

This chapter of the Thai tradition of lacquerware, encompassing both the production of “rak samuk” and its applications, materializes a time-honored legacy of pedigreed craftsmanship and sublime beauty that captures the very essence of the Thai spirit.


Lot 778: A carved and gilt small wooden low table decorated flower blossom (1 pc.)

W 24 cm H 13 cm
Circa: 19th Century
Style: Thai, Rattanakosin