Thai Metal Fabrication
Chasing and Repoussé is a decorative metal technique known throughout the world. Chase, as to make a line in metal with a special tool, and Repousse means “to push out”. If you’ve seen a decorative punch bowl in a museum, this process is chasing and repoussé.
The support material is called “pitch” and can comprise of oil, tree pitch and wax. As you work the metal, the pitch gives just slightly yielding to the metal but also as a support which can take pounds of pressure. In Thailand, there are generations of exquisite chasing and repoussé, traditionally made in silver and gold. Copper was also used, most often in Nepal in the 1200’s.
I work at a Temple that is made mostly of silver, but because of costs, now aluminum. I’ve been working at War Sri Suphan or the “Silver Temple” for several years, studying under a master, Teacher Tu. Many monks study at this Temple along with foreigners like myself. There is a certificate program going on now at the temple for 850 hours study which encompasses everything from formal Thai style drawings to tool making and the actual work.
In 2016, I met Master Tu while she was working on a 2 meter by 3 meter piece of aluminum with scenes of the Royal Projects of King Rama IX. It wasn’t until 2017 that I returned and began studying with her. There is something about the process that I understand, when to strike a tool deep into the metal, which tool to use and how much pressure, to raise or lower the metal and create texture and form.
This Naga took about 40 hours to complete. I am working on my third piece, which is a decorative door panel found in a temple, usually gold on black. The Silver District where the temple is located was dedicated by King Rama the V and his Queen, to preserve and enhance craft. Many of the stores here bearing exquisite silver work are generations old. You can hear them pounding metal with a particular rhythm. It’s a fabulous sound and an audible reminder that I am learning not only a craft, but part of history.
The NAGA: A water deity of Northern Thailand with stormy clouds and water. --Karen Cristians 2022.