"My community inspires my art. In today's society, folk art is growing less valuable, and more items are being factory-produced. Our heritage must not be lost."
Thupten Chompel is one of the master artists behind the yak leather products for Lhasa Villages Handicrafts of Lhasa, Tibet, China. Lhasa Villages was founded 10 years ago and now employs over 175 artists. The organization’s mission is to improve skills, knowledge, and resources for Tibetan artists so that they can preserve their heritage, create high quality products, and earn income and recognition. Many of the artists are able to work at home, around the schedule of their traditional farming activities, and the cash income helps the families to educate and provide health care for their children.
Three brothers, Thupten, Nyima, and Tsering Chompel are master artists in leather work for Lhasa Villages Handicrafts. “I learned this skill from my father, and this work has been in my family for many generations,” explains Tsering. Their work is inspired by tsampa (grain bags) which are deeply rooted in traditional nomadic Tibetan life.
Roasted barley is a staple in Tibet, and leather bags are produced to carry and serve it. The leather bags are made from the skins of yaks, a large animal found in the Tibetan Plateau. The Lhasa Villages Handicrafts artists acquire the leather from a local tanning factory that collects the hides from Tibetan nomads.
The brothers begin by cutting a bag shape from the leather. Traditional Tibetan motif shapes are then cut and appliqued to the bag using glue, followed by stitching. Finally, the bag pieces are joined by hand stitching. Brass buckles or buttons, cast in the Tibetan village of Namling, are added to complete the bag.
The appliqued leather is dyed in deep greens and sky blues creating a beautiful contrast to the brown and black yak hide. Thupten explains, “Tibetans care deeply about the natural environment, and our bags reflect that”
“I hope my buyers know that each hand-made piece represents our culture,” Thupten adds. “Everything is handmade, and our practices are environmentally friendly.”
The brothers are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the IFAM | Online training program. Nyima explains, “The program has helped us to strengthen our export business management, having a more standardized ordering system and policy, better preparing us for the export market. It is crucial for us to bring business progress and growth to the organization, not only for monetary means but also to build overall capacity.”
Thupten hope to continue to expand the business. He explains, “I want to let the whole world see our work. Let them admire our culture.”