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Swedish Design School Visits Chiang Mai Artisans

20 March 2010, Chiang Mai, Thailand

An invitation

Pa Kheaw wasn't quite sure what to expect from the invitation to meet a group of foreigners and to start devising new bamboo products. First they wanted to see her working on the usual umbrella frames at her workshop, and then they wanted her to come to a meeting where she and a group of artisans and students would devise new children's toys. After thinking it over, it sounded interesting. Sufficiently so, to forego the fun and benefit of the local election campaign for a day or two.


A brief email correspondence between teachers at University of Göteborg's School for Design and Crafts and local exporter Jedi International would make it possible. In March 2010, a three-day program brought together three design teachers, seven design students and 11 bamboo and mulberry paper artisans from Doi Saket's Santonhaen and San Kamphaeng's Tonpao villages.

The program aimed for design students and artisans to work together to devise new children's toys that could be made with the prevailing artisan skills using the local bamboo and saa (mulberry) paper as materials.

Despite the short time available, all participants expected that there would be some kind of outcome. Yet no-one really knew what it was going to be. The composition of the team looked promising. After a day and-a-half of listening, observing and some deliberation by the visitors, the artisans and designers got together for a serious bout of design and early construction action.

Combing skills

Initially, the designers drew graphics of items and construction details, and artisans gave feedback and used their skills to start on the prototype components. It did not take long for roles to mingle with artisans bringing in fine-tuning to the ideas and designers trying out the carving knife. And while at the beginning it appeared important for our skilled translators to assist in overcoming the language barrier, it did not take long for the participants to start bypassing them with sign and gesture language for more direct, hands-on communication.

Closely working together

While the artisans were experienced in carving bamboo and making saa paper items, the students were in advanced bachelor's and master degree design studies. True to Nordic teaching principles, the teachers preferred to keep in the background, leaving the initiative to the students and artisans, while keeping a close watch and always ready for advice. Similarly the organisers were ferrying emerging material needs such as bamboo, saa paper, glue, clamps, nails, paint to the group. At the end of the first day, it turned out that seven new products were "in the make". The second day saw further innovation in the construction of the new items and a number of sprints to get prototypes finished before presentation in the afternoon.

Prototyping childrens' toys

Although it had not been the workshop's specific goal to come up with finished prototypes in such a short time, it turned out that neither artisans nor design students would let the opportunity pass to produce real-life tangible results! All seven ideas were finished to the full extent of functional prototypes that a child could play with: a vehicle set, a construction set, a sand play set (spoon, fork, bucket), a spider, a puzzle house, a play and storage bowl, a play tent.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the artisans, the host and the visitors expressed their wish to repeat this at the next opportunity, and also explore further ways and means of working together again.

More on the artisans

Most of the participating bamboo craft artisans usually operate from their own home workshops, carving ribs for bamboo umbrella frames and bamboo hand fan frames. Most originate from the bamboo craft cluster of Santonhaen, Doi Saket. Similarly, the Saa paper craft artisans work from their own workshops, hand crafting items such as Saa paper boxes, albums, photo-frames, ropes, and greeting cards. Artisans have their workshops in the Saa paper cluster of Tonpao, San Kamphaeng. Although in different municipalities, the two clusters are right next to each other.

More on the visitors

The visiting School for Design and Crafts of the University of Göteborg is a design faculty highlighting professional design skills together with international social responsibility and regard to caring for cultural, social and physical resources. The visit was initiated by the school's Department for Child Culture Design. More on this exceptional design school at www.hdk.gu.se.

More on the host

JEDI International, Ltd. is a Chiang Mai exporter of items made of local, environmentally friendly, natural materials. Jedi's objectives comprise social-economic development, environmental conservation and the principles of fair trade. Jedi welcomed the opportunity to support international students, local artisans and child education by hosting this joint product development workshop.

Should your organisation or company be interested in similar cultural and developmental exchanges, or in supporting this kind of cooperation, feel welcome to contact us through www.jedicreations.com.

By Jan Willem Roeloffs. The author is a specialist for small and medium-sized enterprise development, engaged by SME consulting and export firm JEDI International, Ltd., of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Handmade Village Crafts, News Items: Swedish Design School Visits Chiang Mai Artisans

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Abstract and Languages:

EN: News Item: Swedish Design School Visits Chiang Mai Artisans (20 March 2010)

The University of Göteborg's School for Design and Crafts visits Chiang Mai artisans to assist in designing and prototyping new children's toys that can be made with existing skills and local, environmentally friendly materials.

DE: Neues: Swedische Designschule besucht Chiang Mai Handwerker (20. März 2010)

Die Schule für Formgebung und Handwerk der Universität Göteborg besucht Chiang Mai Handwerker um im Design und Entwicklung neuer Kinderspielzeuge zu helfen, die mit bestehenden Fähigkeiten und lokalen, umweltfreundlichen Material hergestellt werden können.

NL: Nieuws: Zweedse Designschool bezoekt Chiang Mai Ambachten (20 maart 2010)

De School voor Vormgeving en Ambacht van de Universiteitt Göteborg bezoekt Chiang Mai ambachtsmensen om in het design en de ontwikkleing van nieuw speelgoed te helpen, dat met bestaande kennis en milieuvriendelijk materiaal vervaardigt kan worden.

Copyright © 2003-2014 JEDI International, Ltd., all rights reserved. Manufacturer, exporter, wholesale supplier of village crafts & home decor - news item: Swedish Design School Visits Chiang Mai Artisans (20 March 2010). Page last updated (em code revision) on 22 April 2010.