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High-quality, handmade: Earthenware evolution sees siblings helping family firm survive test of time

From ancient times to today, the development of the craft of pottery and earthenware has been among the hallmarks of civilisational development.
Sadly alongside modernity the craft is becoming less common to find in some quarters.
Yet visit Oudomphon village and you will see pottery and earthenware products being handcrafted by the Som-aloun household firm in ways old and new, continuing a long family tradition.

Pottery production underway.

Handmade pottery is one of traditional products of this country from long ago.
People have long used the all natural clay rich earth to produce useful items such as jars, pots, bowls, mortars and more for household usage and sale in local markets for many centuries.
Progress in quality and craftsmanship followed, influenced from technologies and trends at home and abroad.
Cross border trade and arrival of new products continues in Laos, a country whose socio-economy is rapidly developing along with the wider region.
The increasing arrival of modern life has made many items available in synthetic materials and electronic interfaces.
People may find these easier as a result of some trends and technologies and such goods.
At the same time, traditional methods and livelihoods are under pressure from demands for lowest cost and highest convenience.
This has affects the production of traditional handmade products in complex ways.
With time and the passing of generations, traditional ways and methods can pass from active use and into history.
So it was with the Som-aloun family, among the well known traditional pottery makers in the capital.
From a base in Oudomphon village Xaythany district they have long produced jars, pots, mortars, bowls, stove and other items to sell to villagers and local markets.
Yet the passing of the highly skilled patriarch of the Som-aloun family sent shockwaves through the family business.
Mr Leovang Som-aloun, 37 years old, said that a few years after his father died, his mother was getting ill and it was quite difficult for his sister to continue the family business.
Mr Leovang tried to assist her to make the mortars and other items his father once did but it was an uphill battle for him.
Finally, he found that crafting wood stoves was a skill he could use to help to continue his father’s legacy for handmade earthenware.
Creating an efficient stove that’s better for public health and the environment, his model took off when its design drew the attention of the European Union delegation in Laos and associated organisations.
Mr Leovang’s model was declared the best stove of the country with its thrifty use of wood and minimal smoke.
The efficient stoves have since become a mainstay of their business.
Making the stove is not so difficult as there are ten people with the skills to help.
In a month they produce 800 to 1,000 in 10 sizes ranging in price from 15,000 to 150,000 kip.
Most of the products are sold to restaurants and markets in Vientiane and onward to provinces in the north.
He thanked the Ministry of Energy and Mines for assistance rendered.
All the stoves from Leovang factory feature the logo of the ministry certifying its good quality and relative friendliness to the environment.
Making mortars is still a challenge because of the constant need for materials and the specialist skills.
“We could not use any old earth to make the mortar, and it’s quite difficult to find the right kind”, Mr Leovong said.
“The soil should be a particular and specific type with the proper ratio of clay. We don’t have anything to test it with scientifically, so we just only work with it and fire it up and see how much it shrinks”.
They have tried to teach or recruit, but until now they still could not find anyone with the skill and patience to perfect the art.
As such Leovang’s sister is still busy producing around 200 to 300 mortars per month selling for some 8,000 to 30,000 kip each.
The firm has dreams of expanding but in the meantime is kept active serving its established markets and readying to evolve its earthenware with the times.


By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update June 26, 2017)

 

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