Tawee - Hand-carved wood art
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"Now I have realized that it was a very special opportunity for me because my experience as a temple boy purified my mind."
"I'm Tawee Ratanatham, from the Thai province of Uttaradit. As the third of five siblings I'd say my childhood was just like any others', except that I grew up as a temple boy. My parents had me stay at the temple because it was near school, convenient to travel, and they saved the accommodation cost.
"Every morning I had to carry the alms box and follow the monks to receive food offerings, which we ate for breakfast before going to school. After school, I would return to the temple and work. At the time I felt embarrassed because other children lived at home and didn't need to wake up early. Now I have realized that it was a very special opportunity for me because my experience as a temple boy purified my mind.
"I became an accountant and worked for a car loans company for 17 years, however when Thailand was going through a financial crisis many companies had to reduce their staff, and those who volunteered were given a compensation. My wife and I decided to resign and spend the compensation to invest in a wood carving shop.
"We received good feedback from customers, but the items we sold were the same as other stores, and we would run into problems when we had orders from the customers, because we were not the direct manufacturers. The most distressing part was when a client asked if we had made the piece. If we answered that we only were the middlemen, we probably would not get the attention from the customers that we should.
"This was so important to us, that I decided to learn to carve. I want to preserve this traditional wood craft that even foreigners appreciate. We, the Thai people, should be involved in the conservation of our crafts. So, my wife and I started to train in wood carving and set up a small workshop.
"The main material we use is mango wood, we lathe it by hand, piece by piece to the same size, which requires the considerable expertise.
"Once we learned to carve we realized we needed to learn to finish a piece properly by painting it and decorating it. But where we lived we couldn't find anyone with enough expertise, so the work was delayed and not beautiful. Therefore, we decided to move to Chiang Mai, the land of handicrafts.
"We discovered the reason why artisans here excel at their crafts, which have been passed down from generation to generation: they lead a gentle lifestyle. Chiang Mai is a city of ancient art, and it is a tradition of unique beauty. So we decided to settle down in Chiang Mai.
"Now we craft a larger variety of home décor items than before. I focus on small items, that are convenient to transport, use less wood and yet show the uniqueness of Thailand, such as candleholders, vases, coasters, and paper boxes, etc.
"I can proudly say that I started out with nothing, just a very poor temple boy, but diligent in my efforts. When asked about my dreams for the future, I would say that I'd like to continue with this art, to constantly improve at it, maintain a good quality, and in so doing, preserve these traditional crafts by creating more work and income for the people in our community.
"I hope all of you will love my designs, thank you."
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