Silver of Mindfulness: The Spirit of Perseverance

“I follow Phra Kruba Chaiyawongsapatana’s teachings. He taught us not to kill, to uphold the precepts, not to steal, to be diligent and to persevere in our work. It is with these thoughts and faith in his teachings that I came to work here and have reached this point,”

says Master Ekachai, a silversmith in the community of Phra Bat Huai Tom, Lamphun Province. He is a key figure behind “Stories of Silver” brand and has worked with the brand’s design team for over a decade.

For many people, this district may be nothing more than a stopover on the way to the northern Thai provinces. But for those who love handicrafts, art, silverware and Buddhism, this small community in Li District is like a silver nugget that has not yet been smelted and shaped. It is raw, yet full of intrigue and charm that only grows with each passing glance.

What is now called the Phra Bat Huai Tom community, was originally just an ashram located in the middle of the forest. In 1963, Phra Kruba Chaiyawongsaphatana, a revered monk, along with the hill tribes from Tak, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun provinces, came to reside here. In 1970, about 65 Karen-tribe people from Tak Province migrated to the area, forming 13 households. More people continued to migrate, eventually forming the present-day Phra Bat Huai Tom community.

The art of silversmithing in this community was initiated by a local called Japo Art-harncharoen, or Japo, as he is known in the village. He traveled to Myanmar to learn silversmithing techniques and brought them back to teach people in the community, who at that time still relied solely on traditional farming and weaving for their livelihood. Japo started by teaching the villagers how to make brass umbrella tops. Later, they developed the skills to produce silver items used in important community ceremonies, such as marriages, pagoda construction and blessing ceremonies. Silver was believed to bring good fortune to life.

Master Ekachai told us that, originally, the villagers mainly produced unfinished silverware, such as components for jewelry, upon order from employers or middlemen. This was due to the community’s proximity to the largest silver market in the northern region, Chiang Mai. The designs they were producing were mostly simple, for example bird, leaf, seashell or flower patterns, made by the kilogram to be assembled into finished  pieces.

The villagers’ credence in Phra Kruba Chaiyawongsaphatana’ teachings together with the unique identity of the Karen people gradually contributed to the recognition of their silver products that became known not only locally but also internationally. Stories of Silver brand has been collaborating with Master Ekachai and the villagers since the very beginning to showcase their exquisite craftsmanship to the world.

The brand’s designers are working closely with the silversmiths, resulting in a fusion of traditional wisdom and contemporary design. The designs reflect the villagers’ identity and way of life, such as the sand grain pattern symbolizing community unity, the rice grain pattern representing respect for the sustenance of life, the woven pattern symbolizing commitment to one’s word, and the spiral pattern symbolizing prosperity and happiness.

Master Ekachai said that working with the brand has allowed him and the villagers to develop deeper creativity and feel proud of their work. They now produce finished pieces that are unique and limited in number. While the designs are primarily created by the designers, the silversmiths play a crucial role in translating the ideas into reality. This collaboration has helped the silversmiths improve their skills and enhance their work potential.

Master Ekachai sets an example of success with the recent achievement of the Stories of Silver brand. The work for the “Genesis” series, the winner of the ICCA Award 2023, serves as a testament to his and many villagers’ efforts in producing these pieces. This accomplishment fills him  with pride while he observes how raw silver nuggets transform into a masterpiece through time consuming and scrupulous series of processes. Every component must align to reflect the designer’s concept clearly, especially pieces like the 108-grain silver bead necklace, which not only serves as an adornment but also fosters spiritual growth when worn.

The inspiration for designing this silver bead necklace comes from the villagers’ evening chanting rituals. The design incorporates Buddhist symbols, such as eyes, representing inner beauty, which is more profound than what can only be perceived by the eyes, and requires both heart and mindfulness to perceive. Additionally, the 108 beads symbolize the number used in meditation. In order to achieve the final shape, one of the brand’s designers Titapa Tanskul explains that it was necessary to constantly consult Master Ekachai and many others on the team, resulting in the creation of the recognizable piece we see today.

Master Ekachai recalls that once everyone learned that their necklace won the 1st prize, they felt overwhelmed by realizing how every drop of sweat and effort put into this work had transformed into a significant honour and encouragement for them. However, this recognition is not just for the designers or the team alone, but also encompasses the identity of the entire Phra Bat Huai Tom community, their way of life and culture of the Karen people. The simplicity, austerity and devotion to Theravada Buddhism teachings of Phra Khru Ba Chaiyawongsapatana, reflected in the artwork, give this unique piece from the Phra Bat Huai Tom community a distinctive and unique identity.

Source:

Information center, Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand

 

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