“If we want to preserve our heritage and pass on the art of handicraft, we must not let the new generation abandon their hometowns. We must raise their quality of life and establish a strong foundation for the local economy. Most importantly, society needs to be reminded of how their cultural heritage holds value to both the economy and the heart.”– Ampawan Pichalai, Director of the Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (SACICT)
From Craft to Cultural Roots and Career Development
In realization of Queen Sirikit’s royal wish to support Thai handicrafts, the Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (SACICT) initiated the “SACICT Volunteering for Career Development” project to advance its three main goals in preserving, continuing, and developing Thai handicrafts under the concept of “Today’s Life Crafts.”The initiative collaborates with Master Artisans of Thailand, handicraft masters, and handicraft heirs from different localities to impart knowledge and skills to the younger generation.
We first arrive in Chiang Rai to learn about the development of embroidered fabric by Siriwat Tienpunya, or locally known as “Uncle Pu,” Master Craftsman of 2011. He is also the founder of the brand “Kong Luang Textiles,” which has been running in collaboration with ethnic groups and marginal communities for many years. The brand focuses on sustainability, seeking to support the creation of jobs and side income without affecting local ways of life or the community’s agricultural practices.
At the Princess Dara Rasmi Cottage Lanna Textile Museum, it becomes evident that other than a craftsman and community development worker, Uncle Pu is also a colorful storyteller. Tales about woven fabric, embroidery, local ways of life, as well as local values and fun facts about the Lanna ethnic groups are told through words and woven clothing that are beautifully arranged and displayed on the second floor of the pavilion.
“The heritage of woven fabrics cannot be defined by geographical borders, because the culture stems deep from back in the day when countries were closely knitted. The locals don’t differentiate between your country and mine. The rivers and mountain ranges don’t hold that meaning for them.”– Siriwat Tienpunya
Uncle Pu’s tales of woven fabric slowly reveal to us the differences between “Pha Sin Lue” woven in Ban Tha Fah, Mueang Bang, Chiang Hon, Chiang Lom, Mueang Hoon, Mueang Nga, Ban Na
Master Craftsmen and the Revival of Thai Fabric
On this trip, we had a chance to chat with SACICT director, Ampawan Pichalai, who filled us in on SACICT’s vision in finding a “place” for Thai handicrafts in today’s world.
“Today we have to create a sustainable cycle of handicraft products. Our strategy needs to be reworked to ensure that handicrafts play a role in advancing the economy and society. We also need to figure out how we can create value from upstream to downstream, and how ethnic groups and marginal communities can have access to new knowledge in the handicraft world.”
We admire Ampawan’s approach in working with the master artisans and master craftsmen across the country. Her goal is clear – The master craftsmen working with SACICT are not merely organization members who attend events every now and then, “but we will ensure that their role is that of the highest valued human resource. They are the ones who can truly inspire the preservation and development of skills onto others.”
Throughout the past few years, Ampawan applied creative marketing approaches, starting with encouraging master craftsmen to add commercial value to their work, as well as providing consultation and support for marketing and sales. Activities vary from taking master craftsmen on trips to learn about the market in other countries and pushing for their work to be displayed in global exhibitions or museums, to helping with pricing strategies, creating collections from their work, and presenting promising products on different platforms.
Our short two-day trip with SACICT’s volunteering project began with learning about “the spirit of old fabric” at a museum in the heart of the city and ended with visiting a training by a master craftsman to villagers from Akha and Lahu tribes in the mountains.
During those last two hours, we saw the happiness that radiated from Uncle Pu’s face as he taught. More and more students, both young and old, are attending the classes each month. With his training, there is ignited hope that embroidered fabric can become an additional source of income that will allow locals to make a living in the place they call home.
Museum Information: Princess Dara Rasmi Cottage Lanna Textile Museum
Photos: SACICT, Visa Sortrakul