Great and Good Friends: An Exhibition That Showcases the Library’s Thai Instruments

The following is a guest post from Lara Szypszak, Concert Assistant for the Music Division.

An upcoming exhibition in Bangkok at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (running March 21 through June 30) highlights 200 years of U.S.-Thai friendship, and is thus aptly titled Great and Good Friends. A few of our instruments, including hand symbols, drums, and a flute, will make their way there alongside other instruments and manuscripts from neighboring institutions, including the National Archives and Records Administration and the Smithsonian Institution. The story of how the Library got these instruments is an interesting one, which embodies the friendship that will be on display in Bangkok. The upcoming exhibition gave us the opportunity to photograph some of these instruments, and to dig a bit deeper into the story behind their acquisition.

June 29, 1960: His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, visited the Library of Congress on June 29 as part of his official visit in the Nation’s Capital. Pictured viewing the Thai musical instruments, which were a gift of His Majesty’s to the Library, are left to right: Harold Spivacke, Chief of the Library’s Music Division, His Majesty, Cecil Hobbs, Head of the South Asia Section, Library of Congress, and Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford.

On June 29, 1960, His Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand visited the Library of Congress. The King and his group gathered in the Jefferson Building’s Whittall Pavilion to view an assemblage of materials gathered together in his honor. While he was only able to spend 45 minutes in our halls, he imparted to us a lasting gift of ten Thai musical instruments and a silver plaque to enter into our collections. The silver plaque that accompanied the instruments beautifully brings together in words the relationship to be celebrated and the honor of holding such items in our collections:
To the Library of Congress. This set of Thai musical instruments is presented as a token of sincere respect for a centre of knowledge and culture. Washington, DC, 1960.

Among the group are several fascinating treasures, including a takhe, a string instrument played with an ivory plectrum; a thon, a drum with inlaid mother-of-pearl; and two saw duang, two-stringed vertical fiddles with white ivory and python skin as part of their construction. In the May 1961 Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions,[1] Cecil Hobbs, Head of the South Asia Section, described in great detail the full set of instruments. Mr. Hobbs was undoubtedly enthusiastic about the large takhe, which means “crocodile” due to its resemblance to that respective creature. The instrument’s three strings stretch over a low bridge and 11 frets tuned in fifths by the ivory pegs. The player would be seated on the floor and use fingers of one hand to depress the strings upon the frets while using the other hand to pluck the strings with the ivory plectrum. You can see below the Library’s takhe being photographed in the Conservation Division’s photography studio.

Photo credit: Lara Szypszak

[1] You can view the complete article on HathiTrust.

Some of our readers might take further interest in seeing how we photograph our instrument collection items. The Library’s in-house photographer, Shawn Miller, worked closely with curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford and curators of the upcoming exhibition to set up the shots that will be used online and in the exhibition book.

Photo credit: Lara Szypszak

Photo credit: Lara Szypszak

Photo credit: Lara Szypszak

Photo credit: Lara Szypszak

Learn More:
– Take a closer look at the Library’s Musical Instrument Collection
– Read more about King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in a previous blog post
– Check back as we continue to update the information we have about our Thai Instruments

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