How one ceramics brand is remodeling a community’s future

Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is a city with at least a thousand personalities and counting! A backpacker’s Mecca, where travellers flock for the bustle of Bangkok, the culinary prowess of Isaan and that world-famous warm, Thai welcome all rolled into one. A cultural hub where every street corner is adorned with another glittering temple or shimmering stupa, and spotting a monk in the distinctive saffron robes becomes everyday before long. Losing yourself in the steam and smells of the night market is a rite of passage. Rubbing shoulders with locals sipping iced tea and adorable children chewing sticky rice. We defy you not to lick the bowl clean when you try your first green curry!

Escape the city, and within minutes you’ll find yourself embraced by idyllic rice paddies still tilled by hand. Grab your hiking boots, and some of the country’s most stunning mountains, hills and jungles await. A chance to walk off all those spring rolls!

This is the place where many fulfill childhood dreams of caring for rescued elephants. After a day feeding, bathing and playing with these peaceful pachyderms, you’ll have fallen hopelessly in love.

Traditional Lanna style wooden building

Traditional ceramics

But this time, our visit is focused on one place and one place only. The home and workplace of Khun Tassanee Yaja. Take a tuk-tuk through the rice fields and following a bumpy but scenic ride, you’ll come to a traditional wooden building. The sweeping roofs and ornate carvings as symbolic of Thai craftsmanship as what lies inside. Here, amongst the vivid green of the Thai countryside, lies a workroom. A female-owned enterprise that is promoting traditional Thai techniques and supporting the communities that safeguard them.

We are greeted like old friends, iced lemongrass tea is pressed into our hands and we are ushered into the workroom. What lies before us is a display of lust-worthy handmade ceramics enough to make us weak at the knees. Chiang Mai Celadon is a maker of traditional Thai stoneware, from pots to bowls to adorable little elephants, each piece is unique and crafted by hand. The team of 42 artisans use techniques and materials that have been passed down through generations for thousands of years. Back then, these types of pots were used by families during daily life, soaking sticky rice or storing water. The techniques may not have changed, but these gorgeous ceramics are now receiving the reverence they deserve. We’re already picturing how great they’re going to look in our kitchen.

Before being dried, and glazed again to perfection and to eliminate air bubbles.

Forming on the wheel.

Hand-paineted vase

Details are hand-carved into the refined product

All-natural process

The secret to their unique colour and appearance is the all-natural glazing process. A mixture made with laurel wood ash and surface soil from the surrounding forests and rice paddies creates an iron-rich glaze. After many layers are painstakingly applied and fired, the distinctive green hue and crazed effect that we love so much emerge. The team use minimal mechanical devices, displaying incredible skill and dedication to each award-winning piece that they produce. As we walk the workroom, we are blown away by the meticulous work that is committed to every item by this accomplished team.

Preserving tradition

The woman behind it all, Khun Tassanee Yaja began her adult life as a bank official. But in 1989 gave her staid career the boot, quit the rat race and pursued her true passion: ceramics. And thank goodness she did! Her vision is to bring Chiang Mai Celadon to an international market and share her deep love and knowledge of this unique craft with future generations. We were able to visit the knowledge center, where young people have the opportunity to study the craft and even try their hand at making their own pieces. After giving it a go, our misshapen elephants tell us we should leave it to the experts!

ChiangMai Celadon is a brand and symbol of Chiang Mai Celadon glazed ceramics

Supporting the community

Tassanee ploughs profits from the business into improving quality of life for her staff. By ensuring her team receive a fair wage for their work, her support extends to the community. This inspirational woman has even spared a thought for Mother Earth. By reducing water and energy consumption and avoiding toxic substances in the workshop she has been awarded a G label by Thailand’s Department of Environmental Quality Promotion.

We come away with a top secret recipe for lemongrass tea, optimism for the future of Thai crafts and boxes full of carefully packed gifts for family and friends. But don’t blame us if we accidentally keep a few for ourselves!

Check out the awe-inspiring pieces created by Tassanee and her team for yourself by clicking here.