PHUKET: One of my earliest memories of theater is the three-act play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It’s simple, direct and economical in its depiction of life, love and death in a small town. One of the most notable facts about the play is how the author used metatheater. Metatheater is a technique often used in narrative forms, which can have the audiences laughing and crying at the same time. It could all be described as a play within a play. As we all know, real life is pretty similar.
Here in Phuket, “our town” is the heartbeat of a changing landscape. Over the decades, it has witnessed the transformation of the island from plantations and mines, to trading and on into tourism. Immigrants from various parts of Asia and beyond, have blended into the culture and created texture. Today, those who live here remain conflicted, as the center of the island has been deemed a city, yet for so many, the habit, or perhaps something deeper, still voices itself in the use of the term Phuket Town.
There are a number of champions of the cause of preservation of the heritage of the area. Lori Ashton comes to mind, with her Art & Culture magazine and Phuket Treasure Map which is a walking guide to the Sino-Portuguese area and its unique architecture. There is Pranee Sakulpipatana, whose love of history and the Peranakan culture continues to manifest itself in events and restoration projects.
On the ground, in the town’s historic shophouse district, is a new outlet, the Old Town Gallery. Still a work in progress, this is the brainchild of Rose Maitland-Smith. Yes, Rose, or Rossarin, is Thai and over the past few years with her husband Graham have taken a keen interest in the area.
Rose is a patron of the arts and during the past few years has taken up oil painting under the guidance of a local artist. Keen to tap into Asian talents, she has teamed up with five up-and-coming Filipino artists in Cebu, namely Wilson Canete, Antonio Vega, Joseph Porras, Alan Lascal and Rolando Ngujo, to help bring them to the international stage.
Their works are on showcase at the galley, as are other offerings, such as antique furniture, sculptures, and modern and contemporary decor. All in all, it is an eclectic mix of art, furnishings and a showcase for talented artists. Some of the furniture includes the Althorp line by Theodore Alexander and home items by Marge Carson.
Rose remains keen on expanding the Phuket Town focus to the restoration of other properties in the area. Currently the Old Town Gallery, which is at 32-34 Talang Road, is attracting clients through word of mouth and has created a buzz amongst the island’s villa crowd.
Art patronage remains an admirable quality, as does architectural preservation. On one recent long haul flight, I watched The Monuments Men, which is about the effort during World War II to recover important pieces of art and culturally important artifacts. Despite the film’s shortcomings, it is indeed based on a true story.
Throughout Asia, we have seen the past disappear before our very eyes, from Singapore to Shanghai and here in Phuket. Those who remain committed to retaining the fabric of “our town” are creating an admirable footprint for the future. Next time you can spare a few hours, go and pick up a copy of the Phuket Treasure Map or stop in and see Rose at Old Town Gallery to take a step back into a quieter time and place.
Bill Barnett is Managing Director of C9Hotelworks. He can be contacted through: c9hotelworks.com
See more of Bill’s writing on his hotel industry focused blog thephuketinsider.com
— Bill Barnett