Thai Ceramics: The Noble Peasant’s Plumage

Many people know of the famous Benjarong style porcelain of Thailand, with its trademark blue and gold diamond patterns. And well they should, it’s gorgeous stuff. But it’s also more the sort of thing you put on the shelf than the table, and I have a real soft spot for the everyday.

ceramiscs at chatuchak weekend marketSo quixotically I will point your eyes in the direction of the painted rooster, the proud patron of the well laid table at breakfast, lunch and dinner (elevensies, too). Here are some pictures from my personal collection…..

I decided to write this piece out when a restaurant opened down the street from me and raised this Picassoesque preener as their mascot, with a big sign and of course complete set of rooster style plates, bowls, saucers and so on.

benjarong_painted_rooster_thailandThe rooster certainly didn’t need the attention, he’s more than ubiquitous on the common table and in the bottom of your bowl of street noodles. In all likelihood, you’ve sat or stood beak to beak with the bird on many occasions and didn’t notice, or maybe you did. Only you know that.

But now that we know this old baan baan bird is all over the place, and generally not given too much attention, I’m going indulge myself without shame or regret, and wax philosophical.

This bird, painted with a brisk, abstract whimsy, is emblematic of the proud refinement of an industrious and cultured peasantry.

ceramics_in_bangkokIn the U.S.A., I knew it as a thing called tole painting. My grandmother had all kinds of thusly decorated surfaces around her house, even took me to classes to study painting in that style with her one summer.

Of course all the people of the world have stuff like this, the cottage craft. It is when ordinary people take ordinary items that they HAVE TO USE throughout the course of their daily lives and making them beautiful, making them uniquely theirs, making them far from ordinary.

It’s taking the hand towel and sewing a design into it, it’s taking the old wooden serving tray and painting it, it’s painting fun designs on the garbage truck, it’s covering the rusty old bicycle in flags and tassels, it’s eating off of rooster plates and it’s being human.

chatuchak weekend marketAlso, this stuff is very cheap. There’s one ceramic place not far from me on Srinakarin, but I got most of the stuff in the pictures at Talad Iam Sombat on various weekends (the ceramic people only show up on the weekends). The tea pot and cups came from a shop at Chatuchak (JJ) Market, where I paid 250 baht for them and the plate. But my cups, little sauce dishes, bowl, etc. were all 20 baht or under.

This brings me to another topic entirely, which is how to find the best deals on really cool handmade (or at least partially handmade) ceramics in Bangkok.

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