- Hotels are enhancing their guests’ stays with unique experiences and privileged access to create new travel points of view
- Tom Otley takes an art tour in Thailand, while Laura Miserez provides snapshots of the myriad options available around the world.
There’s something mesmerizing about watching a pot being hand-thrown on a wheel. A huge weight of wet clay is fashioned into a ball, thrown hard against the turntable and then, gradually, something more recognizable appears. The clay is centered, opened, drawn upwards to create sides and then trimmed using simple tools, but mostly the hands of the potter. The wheel’s speed is controlled by a foot pedal.
Eventually, a pot, bowl, dish or vase appears, still caked in the dark color of clay. It’s an ancient art – the earliest pots made this way date from thousands of years ago, and modern electric wheels aren’t very different from the ones used millennia ago when a foot kept the wheel spinning. It looks easy when done well, yet if you try it will likely result in a change of clothing.
Perhaps the most astonishing part is watching the artists at work, painting delicate flowers on a large ceramic plate, following patterns sometimes, or on other occasions merely being inspired by a pattern from a book. It’s a high-wire act – the pottery shop is full of “seconds” where the flaw would have to be pointed out to you.
I was watching potters at the Prempracha Collection, one of Thailand’s leading ceramics factories, where people come from far and wide to see the latest designs. The factory employs more than 100 people on premises just outside Chiang Mai and provides tableware for top-end restaurants, local private buyers and tourist gifts for visitors (shipping even the largest items home isn’t a problem).
BY APPOINTMENT ONLY
Chiang Mai has long been known as an artistic center. Though you can find every kind of art for sale as you wander this city in northern Thailand, from local handicrafts to pieces by Western artists who have set up home here, to gain access to some of the top studios you will need an appointment or guide or both. High-end hotels, such as Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, which arranged my tour, can help you gain access, as they have the contacts and know the sort of experiences their guests would be interested in. In turn, the galleries hope that if the guests are coming from a resort, where a room costs big money per night, there’s a fair chance of making a sale.
The tours the Four Seasons organizes are pretty much bespoke, so if you want to brush up on your watercolor skills, you can, as the PR puts it, “Learn to wield the paintbrush with a classical Chiang Mai watercolorist… at her own private gallery.” Since I can’t paint or draw it would have been very dispiriting for both of us if I’d signed up for that, so instead, I opted to look at the art of others, even if all of it was well beyond my pocket.
The MAIIAM gallery, which opened in 2016 in San Khampang, a 15 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai, is a converted warehouse rendered unrecognizable by a stunning façade by a Thai architectural firm. The gallery is run by Eric Bunnag Booth (who also runs the well-known Jim Thompson company) and his stepfather Jean Michel Beurdeley, and it houses the collection accumulated by them and Eric’s late mother Patsri Bunnag. The museum’s bistro restaurant, Kamphaeng Kaew, is also the venue for the lunch stop and there’s a curated private tour of the museum.
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