Designer adds Thai flavor to Christmas decorations
By Amitha Amranand
Ornwadee “Nuch” Boonyang grew up Buddhist in Bangkok. Not the kind who wakes up in the morning to give alms to monks, she said, but the type that goes along with her family to the temple.
Nuch moved from the capital to Chiang Mai to attend Chiang Mai University. Living alone, it was the Bible she turned to for answers when she faced problems.
“When I started reading about Jesus in my first year of college, it felt as if he was still alive. So to me, it wasn’t about religion. It became a way of living day-to-day with faith. I like the idea of ‘How can I help others?’ – something which I didn’t find in my previous faith,” Nuch said.
The recently married 31-year-old is now the designer and trainer of Baan Handicrafts, a small venture which she helped establish six years ago with Australian Christian missionaries Lee and Lyn Morris. The enterprise employs women living with HIV/AIDS and people whose relatives are affected by the disease.
Nuch met the Morris’s six years ago when she was a volunteer at her church, counseling teenagers. The couple needed someone who had a background in art. As a fresh graduate aspiring to earn her living as an artist, Nuch needed a day job.
“When you just finish college, the usual feeling is that you have to become an artist. But then you realize you also need an income,” she said with a smile.
At the time, Nuch planned to return to Bangkok to scout for a job as a designer or stay in Chiang Mai to teach art. At Baan Handicrafts, she has a job that combines teaching and designing. And in some way, her faith.
The majority of Baan Handicrafts products consist of wooden hand-painted Christmas decorations, from nativity scenes to checker boards with Christmas motifs. Peppering the enterprise’s stock are wooden elephant key rings, napkin holders shaped like farm animals and tuk-tuk refrigerator magnets.
The Morris’ first provided Nuch with Christmas cards to give her ideas for designs. Nuch also uses the designs the couple brought over from Bangladesh, where they lived and worked in the handicrafts business for more than eight years.
Books on home décor are another source of inspiration. The flowers that appear on elephant-shaped items and other products were inspired by the 2004 tsunami. “It made me think of the flowers women like to wear behind their ears when walking on the beaches,” she said. This kind of local flavor, like scenes of Thai houses and water buffaloes, also appears on Nuch’s Christmas ornaments.
Although Baan Handicrafts is where she gets to do what she loves, it isn’t all “sanuk” or “sabai” here for the short-haired, freckled-cheeked designer with a boyish slouch. As the Australian couple plans to retire in the near future and hand over the business to some of the women employees, Nuch must learn to supervise people. She modestly admits she doesn’t know why she is wanted for the job. Perhaps it’s because of her simple way—the simple way she teaches and deals with the people, she said.
“They teach me that whether I can do something or not, I have to fight first,” she said. “I have to be able to manage people. I have to be able to endure. I have to be able to deal with everything. The reason I keep going with this job is because of my faith.”