Jim Thompson House
Another fine example of Thai architecture, this one filled with rare art and antiques once owned by the U.S. citizen who revitalized the silk industry in Thailand. Since his puzzling disappearance in 1968, his former residence has become a popular tourist attraction.
Jim Thompson was born in Greenville, Delaware in 1906. A practicing architect prior to World War II, he served as a volunteer in the US Army and came to Asia as part of a force that was to liberate Thailand. The war ended before the operation began.
A few days after the end of the war, he arrived in Bangkok as a military intelligence officer attached to the OSS (which later became the CIA). After leaving the service he decided to return and adopted Thailand as his permanent home.
The hand weaving of silk cloth, a long-neglected cottage industry, captured Jim Thompson's attention, and he devoted himself to promoting the craft. Highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist, he contributed substantially to the growth of the industry and to the worldwide recognition accorded Thai silk.
He gained further fame by constructing this house, combining six traditional teak buildings that represented the best of Thai domestic architecture. Most of the houses were at least two centuries old, since they were prefabricated in sections, they were easily dismantled and brought to their present site from various locations, some from as far away as the old capital of Ayutthaya.
In his quest for authenticity, Jim Thompson adhered to the customs of the early builders in most respects. The houses were elevated a full story above the ground, a practical Thai precaution to avoid flooding during the rainy season, and the roof tiles were made in Ayutthaya employing a design common centuries ago but rarely used today. The red paint on the outside walls is a preservative commonly found on many old Thai buildings. The chandeliers were equipped with light bulbs as a concession to modern convenience, but even they belong to a past era, originating from 18th and 19th century Bangkok palaces.
All the traditional religious prescriptions were followed during the construction of the house, and in the spring of 1959, on the date decreed as being auspicious by astrologers, Jim Thompson moved in. The house and the art collection soon became so famous that he decided to open it to the public with all proceeds going to Thai charities (with proceeds going to the blind) .
The house, now a full-time museum, housed not only Thompson and a steady stream of guests, but his vast collection of porcelains, carvings, paintings and Buddhist objects. Interiors of Thompson's Thai-style house show his extensive collection of Thai art and porcelain. The house remains furnished as it was during his lifetime.
In 1967, soon after retiring from the day-to-day operations of his company, Jim Thompson flew to the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia for a vacation with friends. On Easter Day he went walking alone and disappeared. No trace of him has been found in extensive searches of the surrounding jungle, and no explanation for his disappearance has come to light.
His famous Thai house, however, remains as a lasting reminder of his creative ability and his deep love for Thailand. It is now a museum. On permanent display are, aside from the structure of the house itself, Mr. Thompson's collection of antique Asian artifacts, such as blue-white chinaware, Cambodian stone figures, Bencharong (a multi-colored porcelain made in Thailand in a technique originating from China), wooden Burmese statues and much more.
In 1976, the Thai court-appointed administrator for the property of Jim Thompson received permission from the government to establish the James H.W. Thompson Foundation. The property he left behind was vested in the foundation. By virtue of the dictates of its charter, the Foundation is committed to expand its patronage of the Thai arts. An active program for scholarships has been established and more projects are in the planning stages.
Jim Thompson house is open daily 9:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. It is located at 6 Soi Kaseman 2, Rama I Road. Telephone - 2150122. There is an admission of 100 Baht for adults, 40 Baht for children.
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