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Burmese tattoo book - Shan states, mid-20th century. Collection of Russell Howard
TAASA members and friends were again privileged to see a part of Russell Howard’s collection, this time to view his collection of manuscripts, mainly from Thailand and Burma, dating from 19th to mid-20th century. While Russell has only been collecting these for around two years, the collection is impressive in its size, scope and quality. We viewed manuscripts depicting subjects ranging from traditional Buddhist scenes, to horoscopes, the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as smallpox, images of different kinds of elephants and cats, as well as books from which a client would choose the design for a tattoo.
Many manuscripts are made of paper, while others are of richly decorated lacquer. When unfolded, some manuscripts are more than five metres in length, with extensive text and vivid illustrations on both sides. Manuscripts were often wrapped in textiles and tied with fabric ties, which all add to the beauty and complexity of the items on display.
Little has been published on the manuscripts of Southeast Asia, and not many museums have focussed on this area of collection. Russell generously shared his deep knowledge, experience and passion for these exquisite manuscripts, and we came away with the sense of having participated in something rare and special.