- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - Painstakingly painting and carving the interior of a Bhutanese cultural center at UTEP, three master craftsmen from Bhutan are leaving their country’s mark on the campus and in the region.

Known as the lhakhang, the center is part of the University of Texas at El Paso’s transformation. It’s expected to open in the spring of 2015 in the Centennial Plaza and is part of the university’s centennial celebration.

“It’s a replica of a lhakhang that was built by the government of Bhutan for the 2008 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C.,” said Cindy Villa, vice president for business affairs at UTEP.

At the end of the festival, the Bhutanese government gifted the temple to the United States for permanent installation on the UTEP campus. The university has ties to Bhutan, with most of its buildings modeled after Bhutanese fortresses.

In Bhutan, there are lhakhangs, which translates to “house of God,” in every village so people can pray. The whitewashed rock and pine wood building at UTEP will not have a religious meaning, officials said, but will be a cultural center for people to expand their global perspective.

“Once the campus transformation is complete and this area is accessible, we will have hours and tours and it will be open to the general public and to the campus community,” Villa told the El Paso Times (https://bit.ly/1tr9chz ). “We hope people see it and enjoy it and learn about the kingdom of Bhutan and its traditions.”

The building is near the Geology Building, where the major campus transformation project is underway. Officials said they expect the construction to be completed by early December. Crews are working extended work days six days a week.

For now, the Bhutanese craftsmen are working inside the temple while construction workers focus on the landscape and pedestrian areas of the plaza.

Villa said the temple had been in storage since 2008 and some interior wood pieces needed to be restored.

“It has beautiful ornate woodwork in the exterior and interior. It is all hand painted by the artisans of Bhutan and so the artisans will be here for a week or so putting the finishing touches,” she said.

Architect Karma Wangchuk, who is overseeing the work, said the temple depicts the story of Buddha in 12 colorful panels on the walls of the temple. The Buddha often is sitting on a pedestal with lotus flowers and jewels underneath.

“We also have a lot of dragons because we call Bhutan the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon.’ Dragons are a strong friend and symbol of stability,” he said of the south-central Asian country, which is just east of India.

Wangchuk said he got a chuckle seeing a UTEP employee using a tape measure because Bhutanese crafters don’t use measuring tools or make any written plans.

“What they’re doing is already in their heads. They are very tactile and use their senses and sense of proportion to work,” he said.

Sonam Jurmi, a master painter, was busy using a tiny paintbrush to highlight certain areas of a panel.

“Most of the time Bhutanese use traditional paint, natural colors … Hong Kong didn’t get my paints so I am using plastic paints,” he said.

Wangchuk, who said he feels at home on the campus, said the university may also be a learning tool for Bhutanese people.

“Everything here is modern with A/C and lighting, but from the outside very Bhutanese. It can be a school for us to borrow some modern elements as Bhutan is urbanizing,” he said.


Information from: El Paso Times, https://www.elpasotimes.com

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