While I was researching about Myanmar’s 10 flower crafts, I discovered these beautiful parasols made in a town called Pathein. The black contours of their almost calligraphic designs over bright colors is so exquisite! Delicious colors just like candy! Look:
Almost immediately I wanted to try decorating one following that style.
To tell you a bit about them… I researched some key points about umbrellas and parasols in general. Parasols were “invented” first to protect from the sun. The word parasol is made of two other words: para (to stop) and sol (sun) which is the current word in many romance languages like French and Spanish. Parasols made their first appearances in the court of kings in Persia, Egypt and China, they were a symbol of status, to protect the royalty from the sun.
In Myanmar they had this same purpose and this is how they developed this particular Pathein style: Over 130 years ago, there was a man called U Shwe Sar who was the royal parasol maker working for the King Thibaw (1859-1916). King Thibaw Min was the last King of the Konbaung dynasty of Myanmar and also the last Myanmar monarch in the country’s history. His reign ended when the Royal Myanmar (Burmese) armed forces were defeated by the forces of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, on 29 November 1885. (1) This is a really sad illustration of when the King was being led by the English into exile to India… notice the parasols:
U Shwe Sar’s escaped by basically floating down the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) river all the way to a town in its Delta called Pathein. Yes! That is what Pathein is, a town! Using his skill, U Shwe Sar started creating parasols to exchange for food and shelter, eventually creating his first workshop in the back of his house.
U shwe Sar eventually passed on the trade secrets to his son, U Saw, who took over the business when his father passed on. With a love for teaching and a desire to ensure the tradition survived , U Saw also saw an opportunity for the poor of Pathein to learn a trade. (2)
His son Ko Min Naing continues this family tradition and he has the largest workshop producing these parasols in its traditional style. He produces parasols for both the national and international market running the workshop also in the back of his house where there are about 25 employees housed and working.
Making the parasols from scratch is not easy task. There are 56 stages to create a good Pathein Parasol! The frame is made from bamboo and the fabrics are cotton and silk. As there are so many steps , it requires a lot of team work. (3).
I am happy to report that his workshop still exists. I found its Facebook account HERE. and these are photos posted there:
This is the address listed there:
There is a great account of someone who visited in 2017 HERE. This photo is from there:
And here are others from different sites:
I was able to find two videos of the workshop! The first one is the best one of the workshop… but you have to watch it in YouTube. Don’t forget to come back! ^ ^
But this one was the one that made me teary eyed. I thought about how precious and beautiful their work is and I sent my prayers for its continued survival.
And now… here is my attempt at paining a parasol like they do…
I bought a paper parasol. Red. It cost around $15 dollars. It was well made paper, balsa wood parts so it’s was (is) very fragile but sturdy enough for the project. I also bought a flat small brush for the project and a black liquid acrylic paint.
The first thing I did was paint the spokes black lines. I figured it would be a great way to warm up my hand. It was so hard to do it by pulse.
After I did the black line around its circumference. This was easier… phew!
After, I looked at photos and filled many pages with designs. It was a lot of fun discovering how to turn the brush to get the calligraphy like patterns. I chose and concentrated on one and practiced making in the amount of spaces. For this I placed a piece of paper on the umbrella and traced the spoke lines.
I decided on a design in every 4 spaces. I measured the distance in the umbrella to place the designs. I practiced it in three measured papers until I felt I was ready.
Breathing helped and I also observed this video and how the artisan used her finger sometime for support:
I am going to try to make a YouTube video so you can see me in action but for now, here are photos: (You can see some of the action in my Instagram account HERE.)
Even though I slipped slightly on some parts I was really happy with the result. Then I painted the curvy line towards the center. (You can see this in the last photo.) I also chose and practiced a design for the outer edge…
Today I added simpler lines in the spaces:
Then I decided to celebrate it by doing a photo shoot. Near where I live there is this low traffic street that has the most beautiful changing trees in Autumn. And today was simply a perfect day… so I had a LOT of fun…
Maybe too much fun? Not such thing!
I just wish I could fly up to the branches with my Pathein Parasol…then I would dance with the leaves and float down as they fall! ^ ^
Thank you for coming with me on this adventure!!!