Sacred scroll still available for view at Phoenix Art Museum

Caity Hemmerle, Feature Editor, SCC Chronicle

The Phoenix Art Museum ( is currently displaying a 37-foot painted cloth scroll from Laos that allows viewers to explore the intriguing story of the Buddha, but only for one more month.

The exhibit is located in the Art of Asia Gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum. The exhibit has been on display since Sept. 20 of last year, but will only be available to viewers until March 8.

Among the Vessantara Jataka scroll are Thai Buddhist figures and other Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhist works from Phoenix Art Museum’s collection.

Janet Baker, Phoenix Art Museum’s Curator of Asian Art, has the important job of encouraging artists and owners of art to donate their artwork or allow the museum to display their artwork for periods of time.

According to Baker, getting this ancient scroll to make its way to Phoenix was a long, but very rewarding, task for her and the museum.

The museum’s website (  states that, “Artists who paint these scrolls are often anonymous, and their work is supported by donations from members of the local community.”

Even after being granted the opportunity to use the scroll, Baker said, “It was a lot of work to make the scroll presentable to the public. We used a lot of text so that viewers could understand what was going on.”
The text Baker is speaking of can be read off of small placards (shown in photo) located in front and to the sides of the scroll. Each placard explains what is going on above on the scroll.

“The Vessantara Jataka (Phra Wetsandon) or ‘Great Birth Sermon’ is one of the most popular and influential stories of the 547 Jatakas or stories told by the Buddha of his previous lives as he experienced successive rebirths on the path to Enlightenment. Each Jataka emphasizes a particular virtue; the Vessantara Jataka emphasizes generosity,” states the museum’s website ( ).

Baker stated that the story shown on this particular scroll is comparably popular in other cultures to the story of the birth of Jesus in our own. The scroll is 37-feet long, but it’s not the whole story.

“We have no idea where the rest of the scroll is located,” Baker said.

The Phoenix Art Museum is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until 5 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and First Fridays. Most importantly, admission is free for MCCD students. There is no additional charge to view the Vessantara Jataka scroll.

“The chance to view this scroll is only available for a short time because it can only be around light for four to five months, and then it is preserved and stored in the dark by the museum,” Baker said, “This is the only opportunity to view something like this up close with no barrier for a long time.”