Archive for the ‘Thangkas’ Category

WFMU’s Beware of the Blog brought this to my attention:

The Newark Museum is celebrating their 100th birthday (from yesterday through Sunday, April 26) with 100 straight hours of free admission and loads of activities. There’s a schedule on their website.

To quote WFMU,

The Newark Museum is a gem that sometimes gets lost in the shadow of New York’s mega museums.  They have one of the largest collections of Tibetan art outside of Tibet, and since the 1930’s have had a gorgeous consecrated Tibetan Buddhist altar, most recently renovated in the 1990’s by a monk who worked on it for months, offering visitors the chance to observe his daily progress.

I have to concur. Besides having one of the best Tibetan collections around, it’s one of the only collections to include silk appliqué thangkas! They have a large 15th century Medicine Buddha silk thangka from Gyantse on display, along with a video of its restoration in 2002. There’s also a photo series of an unveiling of the giant Drepung thangka in 1999, by Nancy Jo Johnson. An unusual fabric thangka of Tsongkhapa in the Museum’s collection is not currently displayed.

I recently visited the Museum for the second time and highly recommend going if you have the chance. Friendly staff too!

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Our screening of Creating Buddhas at the Pacific Asia Museum in January accompanied an exhibition of thankas by master artist Pema Namdol Thaye.  I was struck by two things Pema said during his opening talk, and they’ve stayed with me over these past weeks.

He described how he approaches painting a deity.

First, he talked about the importance of understanding something of the deity you’re creating, having a sense of his nature, his essence. In effect, having a relationship with this deity. On the basis of this relationship, before beginning a project, Pema asks the deity for permission to present it on canvas. Of course, deities are compassionate, he noted. They never say no!

The second comment that struck me seems relevant to much more than artistic creation:  Pema shared that when he paints, the primary painting is done in his mind. (He actually said in his “brain.”) That’s the first painting, the original. Then he simply creates a duplicate on the canvas. That’s the secondary painting, a copy.  Or perhaps better stated, the painting on canvas is a natural outgrowth of the original image in his mind.

Pema said that the painting is complete in his mind before he starts to mix paints or touch brush to canvas. This reminds me of the relationship of intention to manifestation — of anything in our lives. What we paint in our minds materializes in our lives, naturally. Pema provided me a good metaphor to keep in mind in approaching all activity. And a good thought to take with me to Christine Kane‘s Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat next week.

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Endangered Tibetan art form

blossoms in Italy

Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:42am EST


By Barbara Cornell

MILAN (Reuters Life!) – She left for Dharamsala, India, as an economic and community development volunteer and emerged nearly nine years later as master of a rare Tibetan art form, the fabric Thangka.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo painstakingly transforms horse hair, fine silk thread, colorful Indian silk fabrics and luscious brocades into traditional depictions of Tibetan Buddhas. A single work takes four months to a year-and-a-half to complete.

Four of her traditional Buddhas and two Tibetan-inspired modern textile pieces are on display in Milan until December 19 at the show “Silk Mosaics: Sacred Images and Techniques from Tibetan Tradition.” Showings can be arranged through January 4.

Rinchen-Wongmo is also the subject of “Creating Buddhas,” a documentary released this fall that will be shown January 18 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif., which hosted a large exhibition of her work in 2002.

“I never decided to do this,” she said at the Centro Mindfulness Project in Milan, where her work is on display. “When I saw it, it just took me.”

She first saw a crafts center producing fabric Thangkas while touring Dharamsala as part of an economic development team. The intricate, richly colored Buddha tapestries are used in ritual spaces like altars and temples but are so rare that even many Tibetans have never seen one.

Through persistence and luck, perhaps fate, she was allowed to train with a Tibetan master, perfecting delicate stitches amid swarming flies drawn by the raw meat juice smeared on the silk to stiffen it. She now uses a cellulose and acrylic mixture.

She spent a year just learning to embroider eyes.

Sixteen years after that first encounter, Rinchen-Wongmo, 48, is now one of a handful of women fabric Thangka masters and one of the few masters outside Asia. Married to an Italian, the California-born artist lives in Milan and Los Angeles.

She begins by making a drawing in traditional proportions to prepare a template for her bits of cloth. She gives contour to fabric shapes by appliqueing round threads made from three strands of horsehair wrapped in fine silken thread. She sews the shapes together and finishes with a brocade frame.

Rinchen-Wongmo, who uses a Tibetan name meaning “precious, empowered woman,” works on commission so rarely assembles her far-flung Thangkas into a show. Eleven appear on her website, www.silkthangka.com. For exhibition details, visit “Exhibition in Milan” on her blog: stitchingbuddha.wordpress.com.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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Click on the image for a downloadable pdf version:

Mostra a Milano

Mostra a Milano

For the pdf in English, click here.

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Creare i Buddha (Creating Buddhas con sottotitoli in italiano)

Creare i Buddha (Creating Buddhas con sottotitoli in italiano)

With the translation expertise of my multi-talented sister-in-law, Cecilia Mari, and the technical assistance of Roberto Ciscato of 01 Editing in Milan, an Italian subtitled version of Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost‘s acclaimed film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas has been born! The Italian title is Creare i Buddha: la realizzazione e il significato dei thangka in tessuto.

It’s just in time for my upcoming exhibition in Milan which will open on November 29 with a film screening that night. The exhibition, Mosaici di Seta: immagini e tecniche sacre dalla tradizione tibetana, is a small solo show hosted by the Centro Mindfulness Project in Via Cenisio 5. I will display a range of works from traditional to contemporary, sacred to profane. Visitors will have the chance to see three traditional thangkas I’ve produced over the last ten years, including the Green Tara featured in the film. My recently completed thangka-quilt of Chenrezig will also be there, displaying a combination of traditional and contemporary techique and style. I believe this piece exemplifies the most promising direction for my work in the near future. Finally, there will be two pieces which bring to life photographs of ordinary Tibetans by Diane Barker. In addition to viewing the artwork, visitors will be able to read about the tradition and view photos illustrating the traditional production techniques. I will be present every Wednesday and Friday between November 29 and December 19 to answer questions and share my experience. Other viewing times can be arranged by appointment through January 4.

Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas (Creare i Buddha: la realizzazione e il significato dei thangka in tessuto) will be shown on Saturday, November 29 at 9 pm and on Friday, December 19 at 7 pm, as well as by special appointment for groups. The Benvenuto Club has already booked a screening, as has the Dzogchen Community of Milan.

A note about my hosts (loosely translated and adapted from their website):

The Mindfulness Project is a not-for-profit association whose purpose is to deepen the dialogue between western thought and buddhist dharma, particularly in the field of helping relationships. Founded in 2003 by a group of research psychologist-educators and Buddhist teachers committed to finding ways to integrate and adapt the “traditional culture” of Buddhist teachings into our western experience. Mindfulness Project collaborates with the Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy, but is independent and does not identify exclusively with any single Buddhist tradition. Instead, it seeks a nonsectarian approach, convinced that this approach is the foundation for the development of a modern Buddhism.

In recent decades, a lively dialogue has been building between western psychology and the Buddhist view of the mind. The interaction between the two approaches views psychological development and spiritual growth as mutually supportive. Personal psychological development is considered essential to spiritual growth and the transformation of suffering.

Mindfulness Project aims to be a starting point not a destination. Seeing the process of integrating classical Buddhist teachings with the modern western reality as a long and ongoing endeavor, their intention is to create a space of open investigation through their conferences, counseling school, and training programs.

The Center in Milan (at Via Cenisio 5) offers therapy and training to groups and individuals. The focus of all their activities is on the development of the human potential, always present even where uneasiness and suffering appear. This development occurs through recognizing in each person a zone of health and wisdom, of resources and intuitive knowing, and of spirituality — levels of being frequently obscured by the flow of existential events.

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Documentary explores the fabrics of spirituality

by Chris Martell, Wisconsin State Journal, Oct 4, 2008

Madison, WI (USA) — Threads of both time and spirituality are what Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost weaves together in her one-of-a-kind career. In addition to being a Ph.D. student at UW-Madison, she is a documentary filmmaker, and a historian who studies the role of textiles in religious worship.

<< Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost is a spiritual textiles historian whose new documentary will benefit the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, pictured here.

Her latest documentary, “Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas,” was released in September and will be shown at a series of screenings here and across the nation. The Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon will receive part of the money from DVD sales.

Leidenfrost’s documentary tells the story of an American woman, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, who spent nine years in India studying the endangered art of making fabric thangkas, and now splits her time between California and Italy and sews them on commission. Thangkas are narrative art that tells the stories of the Buddhas.

After a thangka is blessed by monks, everyone who sees it is said to gain enlightenment. In Tibet, fabric art is considered higher than painting or sculpture because silk is costly and applique and embroidery is so time-consuming.

Thangka-making is not meant to be a creative endeavor since they must conform to iconographic specifications, as well as regional and doctrinal style differences. Fabric thangkas, which date at least to the 13th century, were also treasured because they’re portable, which was important in nomadic cultures. While some thangkas are small, others weigh 1,000 pounds or so and must be carried by about hundreds of monks when they are brought from storage in temples and unfurled on mountains or walls.

“Fabric is very important to Tibetans,” Leidenfrost said. “You see it in the garments, the temple hangings and banners, and in the prayer flags.”

Many of Tibet’s fabric thangkas were destroyed when its monasteries were desecrated during China’s Cultural Revolution. And even if that hadn’t occurred, fabric thangkas are so rare that many practicing Buddhists have never seen one.

Leidenfrost stumbled upon the subject of her documentary during a Google search. Rinchen-Wongmo, who uses her Buddhist name, is one of the few female fabric thangka masters in the world. Leidenfrost approached her to ask if be willing to sew a thangka in the image of green Tara, the Buddhist goddess of compassion who symbolizes women’s capacity for enlightenment, and is a beloved mother figure.

“As a woman, I’ve always been interested in Tara’s story,” Leidenfrost said.

The documentary chronicles the process of Rinchen-Wongmo’s sewing the Tara thangka, which took about six months of full-time work. Leidenfrost found experts on related subjects to interview, and temple music to use in the background.

“If the music isn’t good, the film won’t be good,” she said. “Luckily, every musician gave me their stuff free.”

Also helpful were the grant-writing classes she took as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“I’ve gotten grants for all my research trips,” she said. “When I started this, there was no published research on fabric thangkas. It’s a part of Tibetan culture that should be preserved.”

She has also done work with Hindu spiritual textiles, a film on African-American women’s church hats, and on textile traditions of Celtic women’s groups. In the future she plans to explore the spiritual textiles of Cambodia, Africa and South America.

Leidenfrost, 27, said that while she has an affinity for Buddhism, she doesn’t identify herself as belonging to any single religion. Leidenfrost’s father ran a multi-faith spiritual center, and she met the Dalai Lama for the first time when she was a year old. Many years later she gave him a “virtual thangka” she had filmed for him.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot, so it’s easy for me to cross borders,” she said. “I can do research, but stay on the outside.”

Unlike most documentary makers, Leidenfrost doesn’t aspire to show her films at festivals like Sundance.

“I plan to show my films in museums and places of learning,” she said. “Film is such an easy medium for teaching people.”

The Venerable Chowng, of Deer Park Buddhist Center, said at least 35 people attended the documentary’s premiere, and not all of them were Buddhists.

“They seemed very interested because this is something unique, and people were quite interested in the craftsmanship involved,” he said. “This is nice because there aren’t many films about textiles, or Buddhism, or even Tibetan culture. A couple of people asked if (Rinchen-Womgo) was accepting students, and we were told she expects a three-year commitment from her students. Thangka-making is a very tedious craft — you can’t just whip them out.”

Chowng said a giant fabric thangka, at least three stories high, was loaned to Deer Park during last summer’s visit by the Dalai Lama, and the center’s own collection includes several fabric thangkas, including some of Tara.

“Everybody loves Tara,” he said. “She’s one of the most important figures in the teaching of Buddhism. She’s always ready for beneficial activity, so you never see her in full lotus position. She’s always pictured with one leg stepping out, ready for action.”

The documentary “Creating Buddhas” by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost will be shown:
Thursday Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Shambhala Center of Madison, 408 S. Baldwin St.
Friday Oct. 10, 8 p.m. at Mimosa, 260 W. Gilman St.
Sunday Oct. 19, 1:30 p.m. in room 21, at UW-Madison School of Human Ecology, 1300 Linden Drive
Saturday Nov. 8, 1 p.m. at Alisha Ashman Madison Public Library, 733 N. High Point Road
Tuesday Nov. 11, 7 p.m. at James Reeb Unitarian Church, 2146 E. Johnson St.

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The film has been released in Wisconsin!

Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas premiered at the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 27.

Visit www.creatingbuddhas.com for a continually updated calendar of screenings.

The Daily Page wrote:

CREATING BUDDHAS: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas

a film by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost

Creating Buddhas is the unique not-for-profit documentary film about Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, a western woman who painstakingly mastered the craft of fabric thangkas, a silk embroidered and appliquEd art form in Tibetan Buddhism. Leslie’s transformation into a Tibetan fabric thangka master began with a voyage to Dharamsala, where she began learning the ancient tradition from two renowned fabric thangka makers. Through her devotion to the culture, she became one of the few western women to have ever mastered this revered art form.

Upcoming Wisconsin Screenings:

Creating Buddhas Premiere Deer Park Buddhist Center, 4548 Schneider Dr. Oregon, WI Sat. Sept. 27th, 8pm

Shambhala Center of Madison, 408 S Baldwin St Madison, WI
Thursday Oct. 2nd, 7:30pm

Mimosa, 260 W Gilman St, Madison, WI Friday Oct 10th, 8pm

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, UW-Madison, location TBA, Sun. Oct 19th, 4pm

Proceeds from the sale of Creating Buddhas will be donated to the Deer Park Buddhist Center’s temple fund in Oregon, WI. Deer Park’s new temple was blessed on July 19th, 2008 by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

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