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Denny Turner in Thailand

Note from the editor: SDMG instructor Dennny Turner was invited to spend three months in Thailand, where he was accepted to study with the monks at the Wat Sri Suphan in Chiang Mai. Beginning in November, Denny has been an artist-in-residence learning "aluminium embossing" – or what we call chasing and repoussé. He has been teaching this subject in his SDMG classes for a few years, but, in Chiang Mai, according to Denny, he has been learning a great deal from masters of the craft. The Wat has one building called the "Silver Temple", and it is covered in a variety of metals, including silver and aluminum – all of which are worked in embossed style. The temple is still under construction, so the community and the Wat monks have a school where they teach the art, so they can finish the main temple and sell works to the tourists and visitors to benefit the congregation.


Settling in after one week

November 10, 2015
by Denny Turner


Denny's Laotian colleague works on an aluminum embossed panel.


Blow torches are used to burn off the pitch on the front of the panel, but carefully, so the panel is not perforated with holes.


Another view of the blow torch used to clean the surface of the aluminum embossed panel.


Some of the tools of the trade.


T is mostly some notes on things going on in the shop at Wat Sri Suphan. I got to the workshop a little early, bringing my half dozen pastries to share, like I usually do. There is a 20-something year-old Laotian fellow working here who is a really nice guy. I have difficulty pronouncing his name, and the same goes for him and my name, it seems. He speaks no English, but he speaks Thai. I speak neither Thai nor Laotian, so communication is a challenge.

Anyway, when I started to cut and layout my pastries, he made it known that he'd like to cook for me. They have a sort of kitchen and fridge right in the workshop area (very handy). So I watched him slice his vegetables (onions, spinach, some things that looked like leeks, and some things I didn't recognize), grind his spices in a big wooden mortar, fry up some chicken parts in a wok, and boil all the veggies and seasonings in a pan. I made agreeable lip-smacking noises, that he seemed to appreciate the gesture. Soon, he dished out rice and a separate bowl of the chicken/veggie mix. It was really good, if a bit spicy. So we ate together, not saying much, but enjoying each other's company for awhile before Teacher Tu arrived and had a bite with us, also. I asked her to tell him the food was "tasty." She translated, and now he goes around saying "tasty" when he looks at others' work and approves it. One small step for communication.

So, I finished my dragon lining work, but then Teacher Tu said I should do something in the extras space that came with the cut of aluminum sheet I was given. They didn't want to cut off the extra metal because it was too small to do anything with; although, it was still too big for my pitch bowl at home. So, today I drew and then lined clouds and a big 1/8 moon behind them.

About the time I finished, the Laotian fellow came over and looked at my work. I said, Okay?," expecting him to say "Okay" or "tasty" or something in approval. Instead, he took a pen and started to draw additions to my clouds. Now, my clouds looked pretty Western: big roundish, fluffy things. He wanted to turn them into something more Asian, which does make sense for my dragon. He added more curlicues, and little energy tails. I liked it, so I nodded and went back to work. I even added a couple more little clouds in the same style. Looks good, and I'm done.

So, now it's noon and I take my lunch break at a local noodle shop. When I came back, the Laotian fellow and another guy are getting a big sidewalk-thawing torch ready next to Tu's big piece, which after months of work she finished yesterday. Instead of working, I watched them heat this 6 x 8 foot embossed panel with the torch, pry it off of the pitch mound, and move it from under the thatched awning where we work out into an open area. There, they spent half an hour using two torches to melt off the residual tar-pitch. The trick is just to get it clean and not to melt any holes in the aluminum. Now it's done and ready for cleaning, polishing, and, I assume, installation.

Meanwhile, Tu is back at work preparing a sign for another wat that requested it be made in embossed aluminum. This sign will post prices for some services provided at that wat. So, Tu is basically inscribing Thai letters and a menu of items and prices. I can tell that it's not exactly fun for her.

So, when I asked Tu to look at my clouds and moon, she said they were fine, but, murmured, "Hmmm, moon?," which is a similar reaction that others have made. So, maybe dragons don't fly at night? (Well, this one does.) Then she said, "You got more room at the bottom, maybe you could do, um, some mountains?" She showed me something she had done on a piece, and it was back to the drawing board to create mountains.

And then it began to rumble and thunder, and then we had buckets of water raining down. The temperature dropped 10 degrees, and it felt so GOOD not to be 94 degrees and 60 percent humidity, but one of the other women who works in the area said, " Ah, now rain make me cold," and she wrapped her arms around herself. So, one man's relief is another lady's discomfort.

The storm made it dark under the thatched awning (which was pretty water tight), so it took me a long time to sketch and then draw my mountains at the bottom of my sheet. And then more time to do the line work. By then the rain had let up, and I was tired (but not cold) and decided to call it a day.

Tu says that tomorrow we can pull out the nails, do some basic repoussé with a big wooden hammer, and then prepare the metal for pitch. However, it's supposed to rain, again, so we'll see.




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