My name is Suwanee. I come from the Northeast of Thailand. When I grew up we had water buffalo and oxcarts. My father was an important federal judge and my mother a country woman. I had five brothers and a sister.
When I went to college I went into law but only stayed in school for two years. During that time my sister Sudarat and Jum, now my brother in law, and I used to take trips out of town to the village of Dankwian. Dankwian means oxcart station. It is about 30 minutes from the provincial capital of Nakorn Ratchasima where my father was then a judge. Dankwian is a rice farming village where during the dry season the farmers made pottery, mostly water storage jars and mortars and pestles for cooking. When I arrived in Dankwian to start working there were only a few families that made pots.
In Danwkwian I began carving the unfired wet water jars that the village potters made with patterns and images and selling them on the side of the road to passersby. My sister and brother in law moved there with me. At first sales and life was slow, and we would play guitar, talk, and carve while waiting for sales. It was a wonderful time.
The business, Umdang Ceramics, grew. We bought land and started to make more products and sell them more widely. The products included commissioned murals for the King and Queen’s upcountry palaces, hotels and government buildings. We also made ceramics jewelry and tiles.
In 1987, the Thai government organize a trade fair in Edmonton Alberta. It was our first trip out of the country. We brought lots of samples and sold them to pay for the trip. At the fair, I met an artist visiting from the United States named Kurt Weiser. He told me of a place called The Archie Bray Foundation where lots of potters worked and invited me to visit. My family decided after the trade fair to visit Las Vegas, a big dream for them. I called up Mr. Weiser and asked him if he would meet me at the airport in Helena Montana where the Bray is. I stayed at the the Bray for fourteen days and met many wonderful artists. The Archie Bray Foundation was a lot of fun and Edmonton taught us how to do international trade.
The next year I was invited to work at the Bray for 6 months. It was scary to be at such an important place with such great artists. I had to make friends before I could make work. Once I got to know everyone and got started it was easier. I lived there with Josh DeWeese, Gail Busch, and Louis Katz.
My business continued to grow. When we started if we sold one or two pots a day it could seem like a success. At the height of our business it seemed like we were counting semi truckloads a month. The Asian monetary crisis that started in Thailand in 1997 took all the air out of our business. Now our children are starting to build it back up.
Dankwean village has grown from just two or three kilns in the 1960’s to well over 50 now. There are also people working in other materials such as stone, fake stone, wood carving, and painting. Nearby we have villages that do bronze casting and Ikat silk weaving. Every day trucks leave the village with pots.
During this time, between meeting Kurt in1988 and today, I have been able to travel to many countries, and have been a visiting and resident artist in many places, most recently my second residency at LH Projects. I feel lucky to come from such a small place and have friends all over the world.
notes: write about father, mother, politics, sister, jum, santi asoke.