Today, there are artisans who depict everyday life in the form of tiny ornaments. One such group is called San Fan (สานฝัน literally, Dream Weaving) who specialise in creating familiar Thai street scenes – for example food stalls and markets – in miniature. Here is a classic example of how the smaller something is, the more difficult it is to make. But why are miniatures so alluring and for how long have they been a part of Thai culture?
It seems the art of miniature making in Thailand has a long history even though there are few if any records to show exactly how long or to what extent. There are examples which were developed from clay doll making which existed even before the Sukhothai era (13th- 14th century AD) in the Sangkalok potteries, which were influenced by the Song Dynasty of China. Also discovered are miniatures that were received as gifts from foreigners to royalty. Perhaps from these gifts, receivers would get a visual taste of the sophisticated cultures of dominant empires, such as China then was.
For a more defined period when miniatures were used in Thailand (then known as Siam), we need to come forward some 500 years after the Sukhothai period to the reign of King Mongkut, Rama IV. At that time, ตุ๊กตาชาววัง which translated means Court Dolls, were known only to the royal family and their many attendees, governors and any staff who lived in what was a court almost completely shut off from the everyday way of life outside. These miniatures represented a view of what the outside world looked like. They also give us today a valuable three-dimensional glimpse of the past. Later, when staff of the Royal Court came to live outside the palace compounds, they brought these miniatures to the attention to the general public, among whom they became popular as ornaments among the elite classes.
Nowadays, Thai miniatures have changed. Even though there are some artisans still making the old style of Court Dolls, most miniatures are created a different style depicting the modern everyday life of Thai people. Different materials and techniques are used to ensure their models are as close as possible to reality. In spite of the ever-increasing use of digital photography by nearly everyone with a smartphone, the attraction of scale models still survives and are often bought as gifts by tourists wanting to show those at home in their own countries a piece of Thai culture that correctly depicts the Thai way of life, is handmade and will easily fit into anyone’s luggage!
You can meet the San Fan artisan group at most ThaiCraft Fairs where they display a wide range of exquisite Thai-form artefacts, fruits, market stalls, street food and much more.
You can join San Fan at the upcoming ThaiCraft Fair on 28th January 2017 where they will teach you to make various Thai fruits from Japanese clay (Polymer Clay).