1946 - 2018

 Great and Good Friends

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Historic Gifts between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America

In 1960, King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to the United States on the first of two state tours. The royal family spent a month in the United States visiting many places in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The American public was fascinated with the young royal family, and newspapers headlined their travels throughout the nation.

The highlights of their itinerary included a reception by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), a tour of Disneyland with Walt Disney, and musical collaborations with famous American jazz artists.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is welcomed with a ticker-tape parade, 1960 New York, New York

Courtesy of the National Archives at College Park, MD, Still Picture Unit; 306-DA-60-13483

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and President Dwight D. Eisenhower with His Majesty’s gift of a teak elephant caparisoned for battle, 1960; Washington, D.C.;
Photograph by Abbie Rowe

Courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum; 72-3489-3

King Chulalongkorn established the Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri in 1882 to commemorate the centennial of the kingdom’s founding in Bangkok. This prestigious distinction is awarded to Thai and foreign royals, as well as to heads of state.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the only U.S. leader to receive this honorable distinction and wore it throughout his White House state dinner with Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit.

The Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri Presented by King Bhumibol Adulyadej to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960
Pendant: 10.16 x 3.81 cm

Courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower
Presidential Library and Museum; 63-575
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Desk Set Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960 35.8 x 45.7 cm

Courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum; 63-378. 1-12
Photo by Burwell Photography

The first, exhibited here, was given to President Eisenhower during Their Majesties’ historic White House visit in 1960. While nineteenth-century nielloware had been intended for use in the Thai court, this modern adaptation was well suited for use in the Oval Office.

Gold Niello Desk Set Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960 35.8 x 45.7 cm

Courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum; 63-378. 1-12
Photo by Burwell Photography

King Bhumibol Adulyadej looks at a facsimile of the 1833 Treaty at the National Archives Building, 1960 Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the National Archives at College Park, MD, Still Picture Unit; 64-NA-1878

During his first state visit, King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave ten traditional Thai instruments to the Library of Congress. Included in the gift were a pair of cymbals (ching), two small hand drums (one thon and one rammana), two flutes (khlui u), one zither (chakhe), and four fiddles (two so duang and two so u).

The fiddles, adorned with ivory and delicate woodwork, came with replacement strings should they ever need to be restrung. An accompanying silver plaque read that these gifts were "presented as a token of sincere respect for a centre of knowledge and culture."

King Bhumibol Adulyadej gifts traditional Thai instruments to the Library of Congress,
1960 Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Collections

Flute (Khlui u)
Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to the Library of Congress, 1960 45 cm; Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress; 5137-L 2;
Photo by Shawn Miller

Hand Drums (Rammana and Thon)
Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to the Library of Congress, 1960 47 x 25.4 cm Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress; 5137-L 5.00.00, 5137-L 5.00.01
Photo by Shawn Miller

King Mongkut, ruling during the advent of the daguerreotype, embraced the Western tradition of royal portraiture and included his likeness with letters and gifts to foreign heads of state. Beginning in the reign of King Chulalongkorn, the royal portraits commonly featured the king in Western-style military attire.

Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit frequently gifted royal portraits, often within decorative niello frames, in their exchanges with presidents. Although the two never met, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) received this royal portrait with a handwritten inscription from King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1963.

Portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in a Silver Niello Frame with Gold Royal Cypher Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to President John F. Kennedy, 1963 38.1 x 26 cm

Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; MO 76.307

King Bhumibol Adulyadej meets with President Johnson in the Oval Office
In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) became the first sitting U.S. chief executive to visit Thailand. Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit held a banquet at the Grand Palace in the president’s honor.

Their Majesties returned to the United States in 1967, one year after Lyndon B. Johnson became the first acting U.S. president to visit Thailand.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej meets with President Johnson in the Oval Office, 1967; Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Yoichi R. Okamoto

Courtesy of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum; A4380-6a

Purses employing traditional techniques were preferred gifts from Queen Sirikit to first ladies of the United States. One early example, given to First Lady
“Lady Bird” Johnson was made of silver nielloware, while subsequent versions displayed the yan lipao basketry weaving that Her Majesty’s SUPPORT Foundation had revitalized.

Silver Niello Purse Embellished with Diamonds
Gift from Queen Sirikit to First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, 1966
12.1 x 17.7 x 3.6 cm

Courtesy of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum; 1966.51.6
Photo by Burwell Photography

In the twentieth century, nielloware was no longer a symbol of status but a modern celebration of traditional Thai culture.

Gold Niello Bowl
Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, 1967 14.29 x 25.72 cm

Courtesy of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum; 1967.38.3
Photo by Burwell Photography

Although some of these items resemble the water bowls and tea sets gifted in the nineteenth century, several clearly represent a modern interpretation.

Gold Niello Turtle and Tray
Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to First Grandson Patrick Lyndon Nugent, 1967 6.35 x 6.53 cm

Courtesy of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum; 1967.38.4 A-C
Photo by Burwell Photography

The mutual amity shared during this historic trip carried over into His Majesty’s second state visit to the United States in 1967, where in his opening statement at the White House, he remarked to President Johnson and the First Lady: “We meet you both not only as Head of State, but as old friends.”


King Bhumibol Adulyadej addresses the 86th U.S. Congress, 1960
Washington, D.C.

Courtesy of the National Archives at College Park, MD, Still Picture Unit; 306-DA-60-13528

Gold Niello Bowl, Tray, and Ladle
Gift from Their Majesties to President Richard M. Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon, 1969
Bowl: 12.9 x 26 cm; Tray: 36.1 cm diameter; Ladle: 34.3 x 8.8 cm

Courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum; HS 1969.44.1-3
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Tray
Gift from Their Majesties to President Richard M. Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon, 1969
34.7 x 26.4 cm

Courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Museum and Library; HS.1969.48.1-2
Photo by Burwell Photography

The yan lipao fern vine grows in abundance in the provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Narathiwat, and baskets made from the material were popular during the reign of King Chulalongkorn. Their usage dwindled in the early twentieth century, along with the knowledge of their manufacture. Queen Sirikit, recognizing the importance of this traditional art to Thai culture, established workshops to train new artisans in the difficult and time-intensive process.

SUPPORT Foundation Yan Lipao Vine Woven Purse
Gift from Queen Sirikit to First Lady Rosalynn Carter, 1979 10.2 x 20.2 x 12.7 cm

Courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum; 79.10.1
Photo by Burwell Photography

Prior to the SUPPORT Foundation and in the early years of its development, Queen Sirikit’s gift-giving also promoted local businesses, such as Star of Siam, a Bangkok silk company that produced the jacket gifted to First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1980.

Star of Siam Jacket of Thai Silk and Silk Brocade
Gift from Queen Sirikit to First Lady Rosalynn Carter, 1980 116.8 x 61 cm

Courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum; 80.1393.1
Photo by Burwell Photography

Preservation of traditional weaving techniques of Thailand is a major focus of Her Majesty’s SUPPORT Foundation, and textiles produced by the foundation’s artisans have regularly been included among gifts to U.S. presidents and first ladies.

SUPPORT Foundation Praewa Silk Brocade Shoulder Cloth
Gift from Queen Sirikit to President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, 1991

Courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum; 91.70108.6;
Photo by Burwell Photography

On two occasions, Queen Sirikit gifted SUPPORT Foundation works to the Smithsonian Institution.

A variety of the traditional arts cultivated by Her Majesty’s foundation was represented in these accessions, including basketry, textile weaving, wood carving, and silk embroidery. Mirroring the Smithsonian’s increased awareness of the importance of preserving traditional cultures and the institution’s role in that endeavor, these gifts redoubled the efforts of the SUPPORT Foundation by ensuring the preservation of these objects for years to come.

Model of Subanahongsa Royal Barge
Gift from Queen Sirikit to the Smithsonian Institution, 1995 32.4 x 17.5 x 110 cm

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology; E433566-0;
Photo by Jim Di Loreto

SUPPORT Foundation Yan Lipao Vine Woven Purse Embellished with Diamonds
Gift from Their Majesties to First Lady Hillary Clinton, 1996; 11.4 x 17.8 x 7 cm

Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum; 1996.4394398;
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Water Container
Gift from Their Majesties to President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, 1996 27.5 x 15.2 cm

Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum; 4934398.06
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Covered Bowl Embellished with Gold and Diamonds
Gift from Their Majesties to President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, 1996
16 x 10 cm

Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum; 4394398.06
Photo by Burwell Photography

SUPPORT Foundation Yan Lipao Vine Woven Purse Embellished with Diamonds
Gift from Queen Sirikit to First Lady Laura Bush, 2002; 6.4 x 15.2 x 9.8 cm

Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum; FO.248878.4.a-b;
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Covered Bowl with Gold Royal Cyphers
Gift from King Bhumibol Adulyadej to President George W. Bush, 2003 33.7 x 20.5 cm

Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum; FO.333417.2.a-b
Photo by Burwell Photography

Gold Niello Container Embellished with Diamonds
Gift from Queen Sirikit to First Lady Laura Bush, 2003
13 x 9.3 cm

Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum; FO.333268.1.a-c
Photo by Burwell Photography

Historic Gifts between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States of America
Credits: Story

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of our donors

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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