MAKING THE OLD-FASHIONED RISE AGAIN
CRAFTSMANSHIP INSPIRED BY A BOOK.
Chuanlhong Ceramic is a ceramic factory in Lamphun where local craftsmen mold and paint every piece by hand. Managed by Kittikorn Kanjanakuha, the factory was founded by his father, Uthai Kanjanakuha, who wished to preserve ancient Lanna art.
“My father was a merchant with a passion for art. When he came across a book about green Celadon wares, he decided to enroll in a short ceramic-making course at Chiang Mai University. He then bought equipment including a second-hand kiln from Lampang, which he used to make his first creations.
These were inspired by the ancient ceramics from kiln sites in Sukhothai, Wiang Kalong and Sangkhalok.”
His interest in producing traditional ceramics of the region also found expression in the origin of the Chuanlhong name, which Kittikorn said comes from a spoonerism of Longchuan, a district in China that was the source of green Celadon wares.
NEVER STOP GROWING
Chuanlhong’s early reproductions of traditional Thai-Lanna patterns produced by the ancient kiln sites of the area were popular with foreign buyers. When Kittikorn returned from studying abroad, however, he saw a new market and transformed production into what it is today.
“As the eldest son, I saw my father had been doing this business for a long time, getting older and older.
If no one were to take it over, our handicraft skills would have been lost and more than 60 local workers would have lost their jobs.”
Kittikorn explained how preparing the clay, which comes from local sources in Lamphun, Lampang and Chiang Mai, is the first step. It must be mixed in the right proportions before being thrown on a potter’s wheel, which requires great skill. Shapes are also formed by using plaster cast molds into which liquid clay is poured. Pieces are left to dry before they are put into kilns and fired at about 850 degrees Celsius. The fired pieces are then drawn and coated with a natural oxide, which creates an exotic glaze. Pieces are then refired at 1,250 Celsius for about eight hours. Depending on the size and details of each piece, the whole process takes from 3-4 days up to a month.
HANDY MAKES STURDY
“We are fortunate to have a skillful team of local craftsmen who have been together for a long time, making our work look uniquely handmade.”
“Our masterpieces that include a ceramic statue of the God Ganesh cannot be replicated. Our customers can choose from products designed by my father, myself and our craftsmen, and they can take part in product development. Orders can be made in large numbers.”
Chuanlhong not only recruits local workers but also supports elderly workers and local people with disabilities. Skilled labor is in short supply, Kittikorn said, since new generations are not interested in craftsmanship. He believes that craftsmanship can provide a stable career and tries to encourage people including the children of employees to work in the factory during semester breaks, and he plans for Chuanlhong to open a ceramics course for young people with an interest in preserving these skills.
NOT JUST AN APPLIANCE
“My father tried taking his ceramic wares to various trade fairs to get better known, but we found that the fastest way to build a reputation was to enter contests. In those days, few people were making reproductions of ancient wares like us, so we consistently won,”
“The highest award we received was the Prime Minister's Export Award 2012. More recently, we submitted our ‘Phra Maha Ganesha Sai Yatra’ to the OTOP Product Champion 2019 contest, which was awarded five-stars in the Furnishing, Decoration and Souvenir category. Additionally, my father was honored as an OTOP artist by the Petch Rajabhat-Petch Lanna Plaque Awards 2022.”
Apart from tableware, we also make home and outdoor garden decorations, bathroom items and ceramic chairs combined
with teak. We create sculptures and put Lanna-style paintings inspired by murals on our jars. Those who visit the showroom in front of our factory will see a ceramic partition that generates a modern and comfortable ambience. Kittikorn has never seen competitors as a challenge throughout his 35 years at Chuanlhong
“We view them more as partners who will help us rather than as competitors. Every factory in Lamphun and Chiang Mai will recommend each other’s products to customers. If we can’t do something, we refer them to our partners, who will reciprocate as necessary.”
Over 80 percent of customers are foreigners, mostly Americans. When everything came to a halt during the pandemic, Kittikorn and team spent time designing new creations and promoting them online. Once the situation returns to normal, their customers will have more items to buy than ever before. In addition, Kittikon’s younger brother, who is a landscape architect, initiated the ‘Ban Suan Chuanlhong’ project on empty land at the back of the factory.
“I've long been thinking about this project, but we’ve only had the opportunity to make it happen during the covid-19 pandemic. This place will become a learning center where everyone can learn to make ceramics, and then see value and take pride in what they have created. It will also be a business extension giving both Thai and foreign customers the option to create their own pieces.”
For Kittikorn, crafting means creating new things by hand without copying anyone.
“With tough competition and easy media access, anyone can take inspiration from other people’s work. Making something new and unique is our job. Arts, crafts and artisans in northern Thailand can only develop through creativity. We want to see young artists emerge with new, different creations that will showcase their identity in the eyes of others across the world.”
“We don’t set very high goals, but that doesn’t mean there’s no enthusiasm. By doing things step by step gradually, we see our customers get excited every time we come out with a new release. We also like submitting our work to contests and creating handicrafts that can be passed on to future generations.”