We stepped into this 86-year-old photo shop early one morning on our way to Nang Leong market to pick up batteries for Dave's flash, and were captivated by a display case full of an eccentric collection of figurines and buttons decorated with 50's-ish tinted photographs. The shop itself looks charmingly as if it hasn't changed in decades, and the owner is very friendly.
Later in the day we returned (after an excellent Isaan lunch) in the company of a lifetime resident of the Nang Leong neighborhood who is good friends with Nangloeng Art's owner, Puangpetch Suasa-nga. After a bit of chit-chat we headed upstairs to the workshop to see how the buttons - which the owner calls 'lockets' - are made.
It all starts with a porcelain oval (or circle or, if you wish, heart shape) and photograph, we were told by Mr. Red and Mr. White (no, I didn't make up those names), the brothers who've taken over for their father. It's he who, inspired by the photos on Chinese gravestones, developed the locket process. Customers can supply a photograph or have a portrait taken in Nangleong Art's studio (with the shop's vintage camera; they haven't gone digital here). If a customer wishes a locket of the Thai king they can choose from Nangleong Art's large collection of portraits of the Thai royal family.
Using the photograph as a guide, the brothers draw-paint a portrait on a sort of plastic paper and then attach it to the porcelain. Sometimes they bring two portraits together to create a single image. The locket is then placed on a piece of metal mesh and heated from underneath with a blow torch to set the image.
This is incredibly painstaking work; Mr. Red said his father began teaching him the craft at age thirteen and it took him a few years before he could confidently take on a locket on his own. It takes the brothers two to three months to fill an order, and a medium-sized locket costs about 1000 baht (about U$30) which, given the fact that this is a one hundred percent hand-crafted product and that these pieces will at some point in time be collector's items, seems pretty reasonable.
Unfortunately Nangleong Art, like many businesses in this characterful and all too often overlooked neighborhood in Bangkok, is fading. If it weren't for their locket orders, says the owner, they probably wouldn't be in business at all. Mr. Red and Mr. White, who are perhaps in their fifties, are the last in this line of locket makers and the shop may be one of the only places in Bangkok to find this vanishing art.
We didn't think to inquire about locket delivery by mail but one thing's for sure: when we head again to Bangkok in a couple months' time we'll be toting favorite photos and planning a stop at Nangleong Art.
Nangleong Art, Thanon Nakhon Sawan (between Krung Kasem and Phaniang Roads), Nang Leong neighborhood, Bangkok