Rolf von Bueren from Lotus Arts de Vivre on his relationship with Asia and its rich art history

The familiar walls of Chennai’s Apparao Galleries are opulent today; a treat for the eye of the aesthete.

Look to the right and you will find a pure sterling silver swimming alligator, head, torso and tail, each a separate piece. On the left is an eclectic set of jewelry – earrings and necklaces – made entirely from the forewings of naturally extinct scarabs found in abundance in the tamarind trees of Thailand. Its green-blue metallic shimmer traces the line of the eyes: a collector’s item, without a doubt. A lion sculpture made from a piece of sandalwood that retains its natural form and is finished with sterling silver has unmistakable Asian influences.

At Thai home decor, jewelry and accessories brand Lotus Arts de Vivre’s first-ever solo exhibition in the city, titled Tales of Asia, held in collaboration with Heeramaneck & Son and Apparao, every piece is a collector’s item as it should be Rolf von Bueren, who immigrated to Thailand from Germany in the 1960s and has been at home in the Asian nation since then, introduced the brand’s founder.

Rolf von Bueren with son Nicklas

Rolf von Bueren with his son Nicklas Photo credit: SPECIAL AGREEMENT

It is well known that Rolf is a treasure trove of stories. A well-travelled and avid art collector, Rolf’s love for Thailand is anchored by the nation’s impeccable craftsmanship and appreciation for art. “There is nothing more luxurious than what we cannot have, what seems unattainable” – this realization led to the founding of Lotus.

The beginnings of the von Bueren family were rather humble. When they emigrated to Thailand from Germany after World War II in 1962, they were armed only with an appreciation for craftsmanship. It is this quest to desire the seemingly unattainable that slowly led to Lotus, which began as a pure hobby shop. The brand owes its success to Thailand’s natural resources, craftsmanship, traditions and customs, and the country’s people.

Speaking on a Zoom call from Bangkok, Rolf says, “The West has contributed very little to civilization – wine, bread, opera, classical music… While all the good things like silk, pearls, rubies come from the East.” In the Middle Ages, after the west discovered the way to eastern countries like India, all courts in Europe collected things they didn’t have themselves, like fossilized shark teeth, which they mistook for dragon claws. They have been dubbed the “Chambers of Wonders of Wonders”. That was the foundation of all western museums.”

Scarab cluster earrings with pink tourmaline and diamonds

Scarab Cluster Earrings with Pink Tourmaline and Diamonds | Photo credit: SPECIAL AGREEMENT

Collecting art, jewelery and everyday objects for 40 years, Rolf never misses an opportunity to remind the world of Asia’s vast resources, craftsmanship and fine art.

He continues: “Thailand has an active and fully funded craft support scheme which is paid for by the royal household. Most of our employees come from this educational source.” The Thais have exceptionally good hands, says the esthete-turned-businessman. They start knotting and textile work as children. And so her hands are very nimble. “We are fortunate to live among such people for 40 years,” he adds.

Sauce bowl carved from seashell

Carved Gravy Bowl | Photo credit: special agreement

India is no stranger to Rolf – he travels in and out frequently in search of the country’s crafts, resources and craftsmanship, which are often reflected in the brand’s products. He recalls: “Our very first trip as a couple was to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and that’s where I bought my very first one jamawar (silk) and now have an impressive collection of 170 pieces.”

Rolf loves the Indian spirit and admits to being “fascinated by everything Indian”. He continues: “There is this Indian spiritual sheath all over Asia, reaching as far as Japan and China.” This has greatly inspired some of his collections. Perhaps the burl Happy Monk is a physical manifestation of that.

Later this year he plans to take an extended trip to Varanasi to explore textile traditions and handicrafts through visits to factories such as

Happy Monk sculpture with walking stick

Happy Monk Sculpture with Walking Stick | Photo credit: special agreement

After over 40 years of collecting, ask Rolf what his most prized possession is and he has the answer ready: “My wife, who is Thai, has a seven-kilogram wedding saree from Lucknow, sewn with emeralds and basra pearls . This type of item cannot be measured or priced, it is a memory, a rarity…”

Tales of Asia is on display at Apparao Galleries in Nungambakkam until January 31st. There will be a lecture by Deepti Sashidharan on jewelry in museums across India on January 30th at 4pm.

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