Ajarn Vas displays an astonishing variety of bamboo crafts at her workshop. They include garlands of flowers and innumerable kinds of ornaments, such as birds, turtles, carps, prawns and frogs, each one made from elaborately woven bamboo. Coming in different sizes, every bamboo piece used to make them is neatly categorized before being assembled into one of her pieces.
Properly called Associate Prof. Vassana Saima, Ajarn Vas teaches Industrial Design at the faculty of Fine Arts and Architecture at the Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna. While working on her research, she discovered the abundance of bamboo basketry work in the local community. A weaving technique known as “tok” is commonly used to make garlands and ornaments. The scraps would be made into animal shapes such as fishes, frogs and shrimps for kids to play with, but they were not for sale. Ajarn Vas did not want those scraps to be wasted. She also wanted crafters to earn more from their efforts. “That was how all this started. I had no idea that I would create a Vassana brand that gained recognition like I has,” she said.
Her research involved deep study of bamboo and its types, the appropriate lengths for basketry, the quality, natural patterns, local weaving techniques and preservation. She also recorded many kinds of weaving patterns. Once she completed her studies, she pursued her goal of wanting to generate income for local crafts people, so she began to develop new patterns adapting traditional techniques to create them. When her first work, “Birds nest lamp”, won the Innovative Craft Award 2012 for eco-design from the Sustainable Arts and Crafts Institute (SACIT), she was over the moon. Winning that award gained her recognition and the support needed to show that bamboo weaving can be more than basketry.
Wanting to make products that have a cultural value, she has developed hanging decorations that are inspired by works during the Ayutthaya period. The original hangings would use flowers, but her adaptation using pieces of woven bamboo can be kept for many years. They are hung at the door or window, or they are used in auspicious ceremonies. Each piece has a name that indicates its purpose, which allows users to learn more about Thai arts and culture. With help from her son, whose contribution has been to modernize her products, making them more colorful, Ajarn Vas continually receives positive feedback. Together with her son, she participates in exhibitions both domestically and internationally, and they organize workshops to share their knowledge and Thai culture.
Ajarn Vas works with more than 20 communities. She continues to lecture hoping that her knowledge will be passed on to future generations, allowing the community to generate income. “I am happy that we bring back traditions, add value and generate income for the community, especially for elderly people. This is the heritage that we have been hoping for,” said Ajarn Vas.