You are here: Home > Bhutan > Info > Topics > Religion > Thanka > Thanka > Thangka Search
Bhutan Information
Bhutan's Religion
Bhutan's Religion Thanka
Thangkas: Handle with care
Bhutan Information
Bhutan Tourist Destinations
Video Bhutan Videos
Handle with care - Ann Shaftel brings anims up to speed

If you thought rolling up your thangka or kuthang (scroll painting) neat and tight to store it, you've got another think coming.

Ask Ann Shaftel, a Canadian thangka conservator, with 37 years of experience up her sleeves as a consultant and conservator for museum and monastic collections.

Ask Ann Shaftel, a Canadian thangka conservator

Rolling up a thangka is the worst way to store it, says Ms Shaftel, who is currently in Thimphu training nine nuns on thangka preservation and restoration.

Rolling a thangka will damage it because, when rolled, it develops folds or ridges on the melong (the painting), while the thanja (the textile around) can be damaged because of moisture and pests, according to the expert.

"Don't roll thangkas to store them." she said.

At the folk heritage museum, where the nuns are being trained, they are restoring old thangkas to their original grandeur without "losing originality". Using simple modern techniques, the nuns are deftly stitching, putting together torn thanja, the dongkhep (cover) and removing folds from the thangka, stabilising them under the guidance of the expert.

"Thangkas are used every day in monasteries and dzongs. Therefore, it's important to treat them with care and respect," says Ann.

Giving importance to the originality of the old thangkas, they are not re-painted. "A thangka re-painted is ruined more than from use and wear," says the conservator, stressing the importance of the genuineness. "Never make your thangka look new," she says. "If you want it to look new, buy a new one." So how do we store our thangkas?

Ann Shaftel suggests thangkas to be stored in flat storage units without having to roll them up. "Every time you roll up your thangka, there will be vast damage," she says. Thangkas used to be rolled in the past when monastic communities travelled by yaks or horses. "Thangkas were rolled for convenience. Now we don't need to do that."

Ms Shaftel, who is planning to create sample storage units, said that thangkas could also be hung. "These are inexpensive to build and will save your thangkas," she says.

The conservation programme is organized by Friends Of Bhutan's Culture, based in Bellevue, Washington, with funding from the Getty Foundation.

According to Ann Shaftel, the idea of training nuns and monks for the project was of the former home minister, Jigme Y Thinley, when she met the former minister in Halifax, Canada, during the international conference on Gross National Happiness in 2006.

Meanwhile, to the nuns from the five nunneries, the project is more than merely restoring thangkas. For them it is more than saying their daily prayers. "I'm fortunate to have selected because I am restoring a ten (sacred artifact)," says anim Yeshey Lhamo from Sisina. "There can be no better way to devote my religious life than to acquire this valuable skill."

Anim Ugyen is thrilled too. The nun from Bjapchu Karmo wants to restore as many thangkas as she can after she is done with her training in February. "We're blessed," she says.

Ann Shaftel, on the other hand, feels that she has got the right students. "For this work, we need immense discipline and patience," she says. "My students are perfect."

Contributed by Ugyen Penjore, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2008


The Thangkas
previous Bhutan Home