Centre Of Khon Mask Making
Khon is a branch of Thai traditional theatre in which the performers wear masks called “Hua Khon” or Khon heads. They usually perform scenes from Ranmakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana epic.
The Khon mask makers in Saphan Mai community are found in Soi Prachachuen 18, a quiet street with a mix of modern apartments and old houses in the outskirts of Bangkok. Mrs. Sa-ngad Rodpai, 69, has been making Khon masks for about 30 years. Each mask takes approximately three days to finish and the price is between 800-1,000 Baht, depending on the design.
Described how to make the Khon masks, The cast of each Khon Mask, whether it is that of the demon king Tosakanth, hermits, monkeys or mythological characters, is based on a clay model. Once the clay model has dried, it is neatly covered with papier mache made of Sa rice paper and placed out to dry in the sun. The papier mache mask is then cut in half and removed from the clay model, before being sewn together again. Papier mache is pasted over the stitches and left to dry.
With a cutter, the mask maker scrapes the papier mache surface until it is smooth and an additional layer of papier mache is applied. Once dried, the hardened black sap of the lak tree is heated until it is pliable and immediately applied on protruding features such as the eyebrows, ears and the elaborate headdresses. Yet another layer of papier mache is applied and the face is sandpapered. A paintbrush is dipped in the lap sap and highlighting lines are painted on the mask. Depending on the character, gold leaves and colored glass add glitter to the headdress or ornaments. The final step is the painting of the mask with acrylic paints. If it is a demon mask, fangs made of pearl shells are attached on both sides of the mouth.
A skilled craftsman will normally have about five or six masks in different stages on the go at one time.
A wide range of headpieces is required for the characters in the drama. Masks for the forces of good are made with elaborate crowns; masks for the villains are bald with fearsome tusks.
National Artist Louis Youngkiewsod has carried on Khon mask making, for generations. The family was all khon and puppet show players who made and repaired their own costumes. When the popularity of traditional shows gave way to more modern entertainments, the family changed to making khon masks to sell as decoration and gifts.