"The quality of glass captivates me… I love the depth it possesses and how it reveals the complexity hidden within."
"I'm Nilawan Suwansathien. I was born in Bangkok in 1969 and grew up there. My life became a combination of the city and the university where I was studying business administration. After I graduated, I no longer felt comfortable living in Bangkok. There were a lot of reasons, so I went to the US to travel and worked at my parents' restaurant in Portland. I lived there about a year and realized that a quality of life in Bangkok was completely different from that in Oregon. In Portland, I could calm down. I didn't have to rush at everything like I did in Bangkok.
"I went back to Bangkok and worked for two years but the same feelings came back and I couldn't stop thinking about life in Portland so I returned to the US again and this is where my passion for glassware was born.
"While visiting a friend there, I was fascinated by a beautiful little glass dish made by her six-year-old daughter. She introduced me to a Japanese glassware design artist and I started taking a course on working in glass. Although I had a job as an interpreter and helped my parents at the restaurant, I spent a lot of my spare time on learning the art of glass design.
"I crafted small dishes, glassware and small jewelry as a hobby, and sold my work at an annual fair at a neighborhood school and at other small fair trade markets around the city. Then I had to stop temporarily because I was pregnant and had a baby. After a couple of years, I came back to sell my works again.
"I began participating in many fair trade events such as the Da Vinci Arts Fair and the showcase of Rising Talents in Kiln-glass.
"While I was temporarily on a break, I still created glassware and took courses or workshops and my thoughts about working methods changed. At first, I concentrated on the details of doing every step precisely and seriously tried not to break the rules. However, when I calmed down and put pleasure into my work, when I didn't push myself too much, my results were different. In addition, I had learned more and new techniques, and my glass work looks more creative now.
"When my daughter was four years old, my family moved back to Thailand. I began thinking about where to live. I knew I didn't want to return to Bangkok and I decided to move to Northern Thailand with its diversity of arts. So I rented an apartment and a glassware workshop with a small display area at the front. It was large enough so my husband could divide some space for his tattoo studio.
"I use glass manufactured in Portland because it lets me control the color and shape when it comes out of the kiln. I first sketch the pattern I have in mind and use glass plate that I cut into a size I want. Then I'm able to add other pieces in many shapes and colors. I assemble them with glue for glass and fire the piece for about seven hours to see my work. I still have to wait another five or six hours for it cool down. However, if my design calls for more than one layer, I have to melt each one for another seven hours.
"I've been working with these fused glass processes on my own since 2005, and sometimes my daughter helps me. This art has taught me to be patient and I still love every minute of it. My inspiration comes from the culture and surroundings where I live or where I travel, such as the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I saw the colorful ceramic tile artwork on temple walls, then I tried to design pendants from this idea.
"The quality of glass captivates me. How it liquefies when heated and solidifies when cooled. How it shatters and breaks and then can be melted together again. As soon as I laid my hands on glass as an art medium, I was hooked. I love how it retains its colors yet blends and re-emerges in new, usually surprising colors. And I love the depth it possesses and how it reveals the complexity hidden within.
"Although sometimes people think my work is too expensive or think it is wasteful, I try to understand. I strive to design and create more functional glass work suitable for both local and foreign shoppers. And because I always meet nice people who appreciate my art glass, seeing their happy faces inspires me to continue my work endlessly.
"In the near future, I hope to expand to a bigger workshop with more airy space and also add new equipment. I still have more ideas and more techniques that I want to try, and all of my dreams are to benefit my family."
Nilawan has taken numerous courses in art glass techniques, and her work has been shown in art exhibits throughout Thailand and in the USA.