At the beginning of 2019, I would like you to know about the house of an Italian artist who came to work in Thailand as an art lecturer and became much more.
His Italian name was Corrado Feroci (15 September 1892 – 14 May 1962) but most Thai people knew him as Professor Silpa Bhirasri. Apart from lecturing students, he also devoted his time to studying Thai Art and laid the foundation for it along with many other types of art in the curriculum. Many older alumni from SilpakornUniversity, who used to study under the tutelage of Silpa Bhirasri, developed a deep bond between teacher and students. He encouraged all his students to push themselves forward to be great artists and work hard. Furthermore, later generations of Silpakorn students also respected him no less than their predecessors who were the direct students of Silpa Bhirasri. To me, it is not exaggerated to say that all art students and art lovers in Thailand revere him as a role model. There was a simple phrase he gave to his students during his last birthday party (15 September 1961). This Thai phrase was translated in
English as: “You… If I die, you miss me… You love me… you don’t have to do anything… You work…”
As a master sculptor, Silpa Bhirasri modeled many large-sized statues and monuments in Bangkok and other provinces. For example, the main buddha image at Phuttamonthonin Nakhon Prathom Province, the Monument of the King Taksin the Great, the Victory Monument and Democracy Monument in Bangkok, the statue of Tao Suranari in Nakhon Ratchasima Province and the Monument of King Naresuan the Great in Suphanburi Province.
Professor Silpa Bhirasri was the founder of SilpakornUniversity and regarded as the father of Thai Contemporary Art. Silpa Bhirasri’s Day (15 September of every year) is the day that Thai people commemorate Silpa Bhirasri and the great things he did for Thailand.
This month I had an interview with Chatchanok Dulyarat, an alumnus of SilpakornUniversity, who is responsible for renovating and maintaining Silpa Bhirasri’s House.
Here is the interview
JY: Please tell us the story of Baan Ajarn Farang (Silpa Bhirasri’s House).
CD: Initially, Silpa Bhirasri’s House used to be one of the houses in the Manor of Phaya Burut Rattana Ratcha Panlop (Nop Krailerk), a high-ranking civil officer, who served King Rama V to King Rama VII. The land was in fact given by King Rama V. This house is more than 100 years old. In 1923 (during the reign of the King Rama VI), an Italian artist Corrado Feroci (Silpa Bhirasri) who at that time was 29 years old and lived in Florence, Italy, received an invitation from the King Rama VI to be an instructor of sculpting and bronze casting for Thai civil officers. The words “Ajarn Farang” became his new name instead of his Italian one from then on because Thai people at that time had trouble pronouncing foreign languages correctly. The Thai government rented this house for him to stay with his family. He stayed in this house for eight years. This is the history Thai
people should know because Professor Silpa Bhirasri was an important person as he did so many beneficial things for art in Thailand. Many of his works can be seen in Thailand including art curricula, literature, research and especially his statuary.
JY: What is the reason for opening Baan Ajarn Farang to the public?
CD: In 2017, the office of Internal Audit of the Thai Army and some alumni of SilpakornUniversity found the location of Baan Ajarn Farang. An old photo from Silpa Bhirasri’s family in Italy was sent concerning the death of Isabella who was Silpa Bhirasri’s daughter. That photo was taken at the house. This is the reason why Baan Ajarn Farang was opened since then. The house was taken care of and maintained by a few soldiers from the office of Internal Audit. The house was treated like the museum of Silpa Bhirasri. As the house opened only on Wednesdays, people came to visit less and it eventually closed down.
In March 2018, the office of Internal Audit selected a suitable person to look after and maintain this house. I was chosen and this was the greatest honor of my life. I, Chatchanok Dulyarat, graduated from the faculty of Education, SilpakornUniversity. I also invited two of my friends to renovate this house. One is the Interior designer Supakij Suthiphithak and another one is the architect Boonchai Pipatchukiet. Both graduated from ChulalongkornUniversity. The three of us attempted to change this house to be a home gallery. The purpose is to provide the biography and exhibit the works of Professor Silpa Bhirasri. Besides the fact that that this house contains memorable history, we would like people to enjoy looking at art works with ease. Moreover, I invited “Craftman”, an exceptional coffee shop, to open a branch at Silpa Bhirasri’s house. Anyone who visits here
will find a suitable place to enjoy good coffee and food before or after visiting the gallery.
JY: What about other recent activities at Baan Ajarn Farang?
CD: For the activities about art in the previous year, I invited Niwat Mahabune, the president of Silpasri Group to set up exhibitions at the house. The first one was an exhibition for Queen Sirikit of Thailand. The second one “Luksit Kidtueng Ajarn (Students miss their teacher)” was held on Silpa Bhirasri’s day (15 September). The third one was “The great kings – forever in our hearts”. The fourth one was a World Watercolor Art Exhibition “High Prototype” which was curated by two art galleries from Switzerland and Serbia. In this exhibition we saw submissions from several world- class watercolor artists. The fifth exhibition “Thai Soul” began on 5 December 2018 which was the Birthday of King Rama IX, World Soil Day and Thai National Day. Baan Ajarn Farang set up the exhibition for contemporary Thai art. All of the artists were the alumni of the department of
Thai Art, the faculty of paintings, sculptures and graphic arts, SilpakornUniversity. Everyone received gold medals from various art competitions in this category (Thai Art) Additionally, the works of current students of the department of Thai Art were exhibited. For the sale of students’ artworks, Baan Ajarn Farang does not share in the revenue. All the money is given for students’ scholarships. The exhibition runs from 3 December 2018 to 25 January 2019 from 9.00 AM to 19.00 PM every day.This activity is free of charge.
Feroci Arte Musica provides music concerts in the garden. It is an activity for music and art to coexist. We selected some suitable dates and time between December 2018 – January 2019 to host this activity. The venue is in front of Baan Ajarn Farang. As the house is not quite large, we have seats for around 100 people each concert day. The musical bands play easy listening, Jazz, R&B, Bossa Nova. Most musicians are passionate in their music. The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming. Everyone smiles.
With Workshop activity, for the first time Baan Ajarn Farang did a workshop with SME Development Bank The title of the workshop was “Indigo Workshop by Arunlux.” It was a strategic seminar on the marketing for the entrepreneurs, who were the bank’s customers, to better understand marketing and design in the international market. In the future, there will be more projects like this for many professions but all will be in the scope of art and culture.
JY: Anything else?
CD: Our main philosophy is that we will not take advantage of Baan Ajarn Farang. We just wish this house to be the gathering place for artists to come and talk about art or be an alternate location for artists to exhibit their works. These will be the great benefits and inspiration for young children who love art. In a future project, disabled children can come and learn art for free.
We really hope that Baan Ajarn Farang or Silpa Bhirasri’s House will be in everyone’s heart and we tried as much as we can to preserve the house for everyone. The opening hours are from 9.00 AM to 19.00 PM every day.