Who can frame my thangka in brocade?

 

Improper handling also causes great damage to these objects. The thangka form was devised to facilitate easy transportation; nevertheless, rolling and unrolling a painting over the centuries causes damage to the support, ground and paint layers.

Ann Shaftel, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation

Guru Rinpoche, silk thangka mounted in soft brocade, br ©Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo 1999

Guru Rinpoche, silk thangka mounted in soft brocade, ©Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo 1999

 

I often receive email from people looking for someone to frame their painted thangkas in brocade. They have made a purchase while traveling in India or Nepal. Or they’ve inherited an unframed thangka from someone else. And they want to treat it with respect and display it attractively.

I normally only make brocade borders for my own works — the pieced silk thangkas I make myself. This may change in the future, but that’s how it is for now. I do know some other people who make them, but only in India and in the UK, not in the US, where most of these messages originate. (If you’re reading this post and you frame thangkas, please contact me. Perhaps I can send people your way!)

My response to inquiries could stop at “Sorry, I don’t do that work,” but I usually go on to propose an alternative:

Why not place the thangka behind glass in a rigid frame?

If you like bands of color surrounding your image like brocade, you could select from the many colored mats available in frame shops.  Choose acid-free materials whenever possible.

Many people hesitate to frame their thangkas like other art, thinking they may be doing something culturally inappropriate, but I’ve never seen any validation for this concern.

The Tibetan tradition of mounting thangkas in brocade grew from their nomadic lifestyle and storage concerns. This non-rigid treatment allowed the thangkas to be rolled up for transport and storage in a particular cultural-historical context. It is not inherent to the spiritual significance of the thangka.

Modern art conservators know that rolling is a very poor way to conserve paintings, and many old thangka paintings have been damaged by this handling. Museums and galleries always store paintings flat. (This is not as significant an issue for fabric thangkas, whose inherent flexibility allows easy rolling. But even fabric thangkas would be better preserved by rolling less tightly, around a cylindrical core, and with the image facing out rather than inwardly as the traditional mounting necessitates.)

1000-arm Chenrezig by Migmar, framed in gold with a burgundy mat

1000-arm Chenrezig by Migmar, framed in gold with a burgundy mat

 

Migmar, an excellent thangka painter in Dharamsala, painted a beautiful 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara for me. I love how it looks in a gold frame with a burgundy-colored mat and a glass cover. The glass keeps it clean, and the flat frame keeps the paint from cracking. (If I had it to do over again, I would choose a non-reflective glass.) Consult with a professional framer or have the work done by one. Be sure to use spacers to prevent the glass from touching the painted surface.

You can’t “symbolically mess up” your thangkas (to quote an inquiry I received several years ago). Thangkas have been framed in various colors throughout history. Nowadays, they’re usually surrounded with a narrow strip of red, which is surrounded by a narrow strip of yellow, which is then set in a ground of blue brocade. But in earlier times, many thangkas were simply bordered with blue damask or other cloth. You may choose to replicate the strips of red, yellow, and blue with mats. Or you can simply choose one color you feel makes your thangkas most pleasing and attractive to look at. The important thing is to respect the thangkas and highlight their imagery as best you can.

Of course, if you have an older thangka that is already mounted in rollable brocade, you are facing a somewhat different situation. A thangka is a composite object, not simply a painting. Though the borders were almost certainly not designed in concert with the painting, they may have been applied at the same time or replaced years or centuries later. They have become part of the life of this object and, if you are interested in honoring the entire life story of the thangka, you probably want to seek a presentation solution that retains the brocade — perhaps mounting the entire object on a larger flat board to prevent further stress …

Some general tips in deciding how to present your thangka:

  • Trust your own aesthetic sensibilities.
  • Be inspired. The thangka is a vehicle for your inspiration.
  • Minimize rolling and unrolling. These actions can crack paint and crease canvas (I will write another post soon, giving tips on how to minimize these effects when rolling up a brocade-mounted thangka.)
  • Hang your thangka in a place of respect, above eye-level. This is not only a culturally respectful practice. It’s an act of respect toward the Buddha’s teaching and toward our own potential, a sign of faith in our own practice. Plus, looking up induces positive energy and aspiration on a psychophysical level!
  • To the extent possible, store your thangkas and other sacred objects respectfully as well.

Update:

I just found out that some lovely ladies in Holland, among them Carmen Mensink and her friend Sarah, make brocade-wrapped mats to enhance their framed thangkas. What a great idea! If you’re crafty, you can try it yourself. Otherwise, ask your framer for help. The best of both worlds — brocade look with the protection of a rigid frame.

 
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  1. Andy Fleming09-21-09

    Dear Leslie,
    I have a thangka that needs mounting and I would prefer brocade. Has anyone doing this work contacted you since June?
    Namaste’
    Konchok Trinle Wangchuk

  2. Jen10-02-09

    Hi Leslie and guests,

    I was doing a search on Thangka brocades and came across your site. I am making brocades for my own Thangkas and would enjoy making custom brocades for others. Anyone interested is welcome to email me with questions and if they would like me to email them when the site is updated on custom brocades.

    This blog is wonderful! A link of yours brought me to H.H. Penor Rinpoche, perhaps he has lead me here.

    jen@sangmoarts.com
    Love and Blessings, Jen

    • Leslie10-12-09

      Thanks for introducing yourself Jen. Let me know if anyone comes your way from here.

  3. Andy10-16-10

    Dear Leslie,
    I have thangka that need to be brocaded. Please advise who can help me. Thanks.

    • Leslie10-16-10

      Hi Andy.
      Please contact Monica O’Neal at monioneal (at) comcast.net. Her work is of very high quality.

  4. Roshan Houshmand02-13-12

    Just returned from India with a thangka which I am looking to frame. Any suggestions?
    Thanks

  5. http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
    LeslieRW02-13-12

    My suggestion remains as above:
    For traditional brocade mounting, contact Moni O’Neal (monioneal@comcast.net).
    Or work with a local custom framer to have the thangka framed behind glass with mats and frame of your choosing.

  6. Kiran02-18-13

    Have a Tibetan thangka, want to frame it behind light-protective glass. Do you know/recommend anyone in the Bay Area for this?

  7. Sunapati Thangka School07-13-14

    Namastè.
    Ideally the best option is to have it framed by the master artist that painted the thangka.
    Our School in Nepal received requests from people from all around the world asking to frame their thangka on a silk frame.
    We do provide this service however it results to be very costly for obvious reasons.
    So thank you very much for your post Jen. We really appreciate.
    Love and Blessing.

    Sunapati Thangka School

    • http://threadsofawakening.com/wp-content/themes/parallelus-traject/images/icons/gravatar1.png
      LeslieRW07-22-14

      Thanks for your input from Nepal! In my experience, most thangka painters do not do brocade framing themselves. I do, but that’s because as an applique thangka maker, I’m already familiar with sewing and working with fabric. Most painters are not. They may, however, ask a tailor they know to frame a thangka on behalf of their patron, as part of their service delivering a finished thangka.

      Anyway, I appreciate what you’re saying: if the thangka you buy in another country is not already framed, it is probably more economical to have it done at home than to send it back overseas for framing. It’s also nice to make a personal connection with the person who will do this work.

      Thanks again for your input. Much appreciated!

  8. Karma Gyan Lama05-14-15

    hi i am from nepal i have many kind of thangka if u need contact us

  9. Claire Milne10-29-16

    Leslie, you said you knew someone in the UK who made brocade borders for thangkas. That was a while ago, but if you still know anyone here who does that kind of thing, I’d really appreciate being put in touch.

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