By: Anh Tran
“Textiles are a glimpse into a country’s culture past.”
Though one of the smallest countries in the world, Bhutan has a prestige textile culture that is profound in diversity and richness. Known as “Land of the Thunder Dragon” to its people, Bhutan—a landlocked Himalayan country bordered by mountains between India and China— emphasizes on the importance on protecting and preserving its unique living culture in the belief it will help secure the sovereignty of the kingdom. Textile plays a core role in the Bhutanese’s lifestyle as their highest form of artistic expression and their most important form of art.
The Bhutanese ingrain weaving into their lifestyle where looms are found in most homes, usually in a room dedicated to weaving; possessing a sophisticated and advanced textile culture. With advance weaving technique; the blending of rich colors; ornate and mysterious symbols; and the use of a fiber all woven together, the reflection of a specific region and culture narrates a story and history through fiber art. The Bhutanese emphasize the contemplation and visualization of color as a spiritual exercise from the influence of their rich religious heritage and vibrant Himalayan environment. Although capable of weaving intricate and complex designs, they consider color coordination more important than technique as they manage to incorporate rich, vibrant colors into their art form in the most subtle and harmonious way.
In 1974, Bhutan opened its doors to tourism where the country has been in isolation and closed off to Westerners for centuries. Since Bhutan officially welcome outsiders into its unspoiled territory and society, our founder, Marko Bartholomew, spent a decade being in synch with its people and traditions. He aspired to learn the culture by collecting fragments of their textile history by bartering with workers or servants of Bhutan’s royalty, where special ceremonial textiles would be gifted to their workers as a sign of gratitude. Over the years, Bartholomew acquired more than 300 pieces; consisting mostly of antique Buddhist textiles, rare treasures from early royalty, and sacred religious artifact, known today as The Bartholomew Collection. With the largest and most comprehensive private textile collection of Bhutan, he published Thunder Dragon: Textiles from Bhutan in 1985.
Filled with photo rich images of Thunder Dragon textiles that are intricate and vibrant with each piece telling a story of its own, ranging from contemporary to rare and antique pieces, this is the first major documentation of Bhutanese textile art.
Here’s a rare glimpse of a handful of examples into the unique and superlative art presented in this rare collector’s item book:
Yattah: a woven twill piece, made of naturally dyed dense wool, used as a multipurpose cover.
Kushutara: Made of raw silk and cotton from the late 19th century
Ngoshem: Made of silk, gold thread and cotton from early 20th century
Tikhep: rare textile piece used to cover the throne when the king was absent. Usually embellished with detailed appliqué using religious symbols or special animals reserved for royalty