A craft space for Lampang descendants
Prasit Tangmahasathitkul is a big guy with an evergreen spirit who is always busy welcoming visitors to his shop Papacraft in Kad Kong Ta. It is not surprising that he has been a big part of the success in persuading other craftsmen to gather and make Kad Gong Ta Walking Street a space of joy.
“I started Papacraft in 2018, which was then a craft store that only sold leather goods and accessories we made ourselves,” said Prasit. “Gongcraft is a sort of extension that started in October 2021 when we brought many artisans from different fields together to make and create new things.”
The beginning of “Gongthering”
Before the pandemic, Prasit used to take the leather goods and accessories he made himself to sell at Kad Jing Jai in Chiang Mai every week, where he had built up a reputation. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, everything collapsed, so he had to return to Lampang and start something new in his hometown. So, he turned his home into a cafe and workspace, and, aside from still creating leather products, he continued to translate and write for a living.
“When I came back home, this whole street felt like it had been abandoned. All the restaurants were quiet. However, when I started Papacraft, things began to go a bit better because many people were escaping the Covid-19 pandemic by staying here in Lampang. What we did was to sell drinks and craft products right in front of my house,” Prasit said.
“Even in the crisis there were still opportunities to get to know people in the community: this was when the Gongcraft concept came to my head,” Prasit said. “I thought that it could bring some life into the community.”
Prasit thinks Lampang is as diverse as Chiang Mai, whether in terms of nature, art, culture, the city or the people. Everything can become a kind of soft energy that can create jobs and pass a future on to the next generation, which in Prasit’s case is his son, Tonfon Tangmahasathitkul.
“Kad Kong Ta is an old market that has been around for a long time, but it had no specific zone for craftsmen. We needed a new zone to collect products from local artists, whether they were tie-dyed fabrics, ceramics, scented candles or leather work. In October, when the pandemic situation improved, we opened more space in Kad Kong Ta,” said Tonfon.
Gongcraft at Gongta (translators note: the K in Kong Ta Market sounds rather like a G in English) is a group of craftsmen local in Lampang who come together in a “gongthering” to display their handicrafts and creations. Management of the space initially depended on Prasit, his wife Kok, and Tonfon.
The mainstay of the project
With a degree in product design from the Department of Architecture at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang, Tonfon was the one who really got things going.
“I invited several friends to help. Srichana Jareonnate from the Faculty of Fine and Appiled Arts, Thammasat University became our main adviser. We did everything from designing spaces to looking for artists and building an online platform.”
“The chicken logo is a symbol of Lampang, the three chickens representing parents and child. It took quite a long time for me to create a font that looked old-fashioned and modern enough to match the vibes of Lampang,” Tonfon said.
It took time and cooperation from everyone, he continued, saying the hardest part involving tasks like handling the tent structures that had to be put up, dismantled and stored as conveniently as possible. He said they solved problems one by one through trial and error.
Come “gongther” at Gongcraft
Everything began coming together when local people started to get interested in making handicrafts to sell to the public.
“We are still quite new to this work, which is why our partners are so important. We call them the department of making dreams come true. A team of five have helped us make this a reality: Jane, Paan, Up, Deaw and Bird do everything from assembling tent frames to making lanterns. We really hope that this space will be a good starting point for craftspeople in Lampang,” he said.
Learning by doing
The budget they needed was their initial concern, said Tonfon, but his father encouraged him to keep going and regard any problem that arose as a lesson to be learned. There have been problems in such things as the weight of bamboo, packing, transportation and many other issues that challenged them.
“My father encouraged me to just do it, solving problems as I went along. No budget, no problem, he would say, telling me that sooner or later an institution would understand what we were trying to do and offer some help. It was Dr. Kwannapha Sukkhont representing Suan Dusit University in Lampang who eventually came through. Though it wasn’t a huge amount, it was very encouraging,” said Tonfon.
The crafting revolution
Gongcraft has brought many people into Tonfon’s life. They come to work expecting little in return aside from having fun, which creates a warm and generous atmosphere at the market every weekend.
“It is great fun working with my brothers and sisters, and I have started to see local artists have some success selling their handicrafts. I am happy for them. It gives this space meaning. It’s not just a marketplace, but a place of friendship. It feels like a spiritual space for craftsmen.”