“My name is Sakda Phetdarakul. I was born on 27 November 1975 and I have three brothers. My parents are farmers. They grew palm trees and sold the fruits to the palm sugar industry. Unfortunately, my parents could not afford us to pursue studies after primary school. So my brothers and I dropped out right after primary school and we helped them with the plantation, collecting the palm fruits etc. It is a very hard and risky job. We often heard about people who fell off the trees while collecting the fruits. Some of them became disabled, some even died.
“Had we owned land, my parents would not have had to run this plantation. But they had to rent it from people who had plenty of land. So, after harvest time, the family hardly earned anything. When we thought about it, this job had no prospects for us. So after helping my parents for some time, my brothers and I looked for some other job.
“Initially I worked as a cheap labor in the construction business for a few years. I then landed a job in a Benjarong factory. At first, I was given simple tasks a 15 years old boy like me could do. After a while, I was taught to paint on the porcelain wares. After almost two years of intense training I was able to paint all kind of motifs. I kept working as a Benjarong painter in that factory for 10 years.
“One day the factory got a huge order. The painters had to work very hard day and night to complete the order in time. After a successful delivery, the factory owner arrived at the factory with a brand new, and very expensive, car. It made me realize that no matter how hard and dedicated work you do for other people, your compensation will never be adequate to the work you put into it. You will just earn … something.
“However, working 10 years as a painter in that factory gained me lots of experience. It gave me artistic talents, it brought me lots of good things and I am very grateful. The day I resigned I told the owner that I planned to run my own Benjarong workshop. He wished me well.
“I was 25 years old and started anew. The only possession I had was a moped. I took it to a finance shop and got 6,000 Thai Baht (about US$200), which was enough cash to start running my small workshop. I remember the first time I bought large boxes filled with porcelain wares from a factory and transported them on my moped.
“I was so happy to run my own small workshop. But soon the hard reality was that it was so difficult to find buyers. I was just a 25 years old man starting to run my own business with little money. The big factory had been in business for decades and got so many customers already. What could I do to get customers? I realized that I could not compete with them by painting the same patterns. So I started to design new motifs and to create my own style. The motifs I developed are quite nice and actually a bit easier to draw for me. So in the end, I could sell these unique and quality Benjarong wares for a much lower price.
“Many people want to own Benjarong porcelain wares but they cannot buy any because prices are usually so expensive. With my new floral designs and lower price, many people now can own Benjarong. Customers now come to shop at my workshop for these reasons. But also because I am always honest with them as regards to quality and prices. I aim to create the best quality products with affordable prices. But if the motifs are not too elaborate, or if quality is not the utmost best, I tell the customers and show them why it is not the very best quality.
“I married in 2010 and my wife is working with me. We do not have any children yet. The day we have children, I would like to teach them the skills and traditional techniques that were passed down to me from generation to generation. I hope that my children will love it. If not, of course we will not force them to learn. They will do whatever they love to do with their life.
“Looking back at my life so far, I am very happy to be able to do what I am doing now. I have my skills, my art and I have my own workshop. I can also support my parents and my brothers. I have trained more than 50 people in the past 12 years. I have presently around 15 people working with me. The working atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and easy going. I have also opened my home to be a training place for anyone in the community who is interested in learning the art of Benjarong painting. I like it and hope it will help prevent that ancient art from dying out.”
Browse Sakda’s benjarong.
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Text by Thannaree C. © Ezistock Co., Ltd., 2011 – All Rights Reserved.
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