Not so long ago, shoppers visiting Chiang Mai required a lot of time to buy the speciality items produced in separate villages in the province e.g. silk village, ceramic and eathernware, herbal medicine and fragrances, hilltribe markets, silver village, woodworking and lacquerware. Now, The Northern Village in Central Airport Plaza has brought all the best producers of these works of art to one convenient area. To appreciate the skills necessary to produce these beautiful crafts, just come to this one stop shopping emporium.
Traditionally, the local people of north Thailand did not rest idle in the period between the harvesting and next planting of the rice paddies. Hence, they have developed a reputation for producing some of the most beautiful and diverse handicrafts in Asia. The range of products is endless because Lanna artisans are famous for furniture, leather work, hilltribe costumes, gems and jewelry, and beautiful paintings.
In November 2004 the Northern Village will host The Exhibition of Chiangmai Brand products. Out of the thousands of hand produced items in the province, the 30 producers carrying the Chiangmai Brand logo on their products are the top of the line. Definitely worth seeing the beautiful products on display in this exhibition.
A wide range of silverware is available and look for the most famous being silver vessels stamped with characters from the Thai version of the Ramayana. The silver used is of high purity, sometimes 100 percent. The silversmiths are noted for the high quality workmanship. The ethnic look of the hill tribes who also prize silver in hill tribe earrings, necklaces and bracelets can be found.
An intrinsically Thai craft to take home is lightweight lacquerware. Some designs display a Burmese influence which reflects the intermingling of these two cultures in Lanna history. The lacquerware making process if very time-consuming and requires great patience. Ceramics production in Chiangmai dates back to when the city's founder, King Mengrai, imported expert potters from China to produce celadon at the city of Sawankhalok. The heritage of producing this pale green ceramic with the characteristic crackled glaze lives on in Sankampaeng.
Celadon production is time-consuming and laborious. Clay is collected, impurities removed, mixed with water, and passed several times through a pug mill to improve blending. It is then left to age by bacterial action. When 'mature', the clay is then kneaded and the vessel then thrown on the potter's wheel. When 'leather hard', the vessel is carved with designs and left to dry naturally. The vessel is then bisque fired to prepare the surface for the application of the wood ash glaze from the wood of the overcus belutina tree, found in Northern Thai forests. The ash of this wood is preferred as the resultant glaze is jade green, the most auspicious stone to the Chinese. The addition of cobalt or iron results in blue or dark green glazes.
Another product of folk wisdom is using mulberry bark paper, called saa, to make umbrellas and fans. Like most local crafts, only natural materials are used to produce the umbrellas. A bamboo handle with spokes to take the paper covering is produced. The bark is pounded, virtually dissolved in a tank, and collected on fine mesh and left to dry into saa paper. After being applied to the umbrella frame, artists decorate the parasol with colorful birds and flowers.
Woodcarving is another ancient craft which has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Teak, with its beautiful grain and durability, is the referred wood. Mulberry and jackfruit wood is used items to be painted or lacquered. The range is daunting but visitors will come away from Northern Village with a special keepsake to remind them of their days in the kingdom of a million rice fields. Despite modern development, craftsmen are keeping the traditional wisdom alive in the hills of North Thailand.
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