"It's all up to chance – it's up there in the air and you just have to grab it. If I hadn't, I would still be selling food."
"My name is Nantana Sompamitre and you can call me 'Nan.' I was born on May 1, 1950 in a calm and peaceful village in... northern Thailand. My family is large; I have eight brothers and sisters. We are a family of artisans. Instead of going to the fields, my father and mother made the umbrella's topknot. My father is a craftsman and was always teaching us. My brothers and sisters helped our parents in one way or another in the running of their business. I am the one who was able to make the shape of the knot. I started helping my parents when I was 13 years old but quit when I was 17. At that time I had just graduated from high school and I wanted to do something more to help my parents. Fortunately, my cousin had a food shop and I became a vendor. Under good conditions this is generally a good line of work, and eventually I met my husband. He is the man who changed my life completely.
"He is an artisan working on lacquer ware. His main job was to paint the motifs on the different pieces. We married when I was 23 years old. One day, my husband and I discussed our future and we realized that with his skill and mine, we could open up our own lacquer ware workshop. He taught me every step involved in the creation of lacquer ware. Thanks to my crafting background I learned quickly and within a year I took part in every step of the creation process, even hand-painting the motifs. We then needed to become known yet. My husband and I went to Bangkok and got our first consignment order! Gradually more shops took an interest in our work and we soon began to sell more, so we were very happy as we could see we had a bright future ahead of us.
"Now we have more than 30 artisans working with us, and my husband and I always train them personally. This is my most proudest thing in life. I never dared to dream of a day like this. I would not have made this on my own. It's all up to chance – it's up there in the air and you just have to grab it. If I hadn't, I would still be selling food.
"I love this craft very much. It is a Thai heritage and not everyone can do it. My work is always developing in quality, color, shape and design. We all work together as a team and everyone presents his or her own idea.
"I have a son and a daughter. My son is 26 and studies computer engineering at the state university and my daughter has just graduated in business management. They are my hope and thanks to our handicrafts, I think they will be successful in life.
"I think you are the best channel in this day and age to show who you are and what you are doing. You will help my handcrafts be known around the world for the people who love this kind of work. What more can I ask for? Thank you and I hope everybody loves my handcrafts too!"
To craft her designs, the wood is carved into the desired shape. Then it is coated with lacquer, which is derived from the Gluta usitata tree and ashes. It is dries to form a watertight seal that is polished, and another coat is applied. This process is repeated up to twenty times before as many six coats of pure lacquer are applied. The final layer is polished to a shine with powdered fired clay. Next, eggshells are cleaned and cracked into small pieces. Sompamitre arranges them in the desired pattern on fresh coat of lacquer. The tray is lacquered twice more and sanded in water until the eggshells slowly appear.