By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.
I recently met a friend of a friend, and was
delighted to recognize him. We worked together on the annual
silent auction for a local charity a few years ago, but never
actually met. Without being asked, he had taken it upon himself
to solicit a few items for us. It was such a generous gesture
that I stopped by his place of business one afternoon to thank
him in person. And found it empty. Fast-forward to my caf้
au lait last week. You can imagine how happy I was, so happy
that I want to share his story with you.
Steven Werner was born on a farm in the
United States. A talented pianist, he went to the American
Conservatory of Music in Chicago after high school. He studied
music, but he also took a job at the Chicago Art Institute to
help pay his expenses. His life was music by day and food
service the rest of the time. He developed a love of antiques
and textiles, both frequently exhibited at the Institute, and
traveled to Guatemala to study weaving a couple of years later.
Throughout his life he would make many trips to Guatemala, once
living in a small village for fourteen months while he learned
to weave the ethnic patterns. Back in Chicago he continued to
study music, and formed a chamber group.
But change was in the air, so Steven took off
to New Orleans to become a street musician. With two others the
French Quarter Chamber Gang was born, earning about $60 an hour
- heady stuff in those days. All three found jobs in the French
Quarter, then played their music after hours and on weekends.
Steven worked in gardens throughout the French Quarter,
including that of La Marquise French Bakery. One day the chef
approached him. The croissant maker had died, would Steven like
to serve a European apprenticeship and learn to make croissants?
So Steven became a croissant apprentice for seven years while he
played his music and explored New Orleans.
But the reality of life in the city reared
its head. His apartment on Bourbon Street was robbed six times
and he was held up at gunpoint on his way home from a meeting.
Enough, he decided, and moved to Denver to open his own pastry
shop. It was successful enough, but being a pastry chef takes
its toll – up all night, making the same products at the same
time night after night. A friend suggested that he apply with a
placement agency as a personal chef to one of the many wealthy
families living in the area. He did, and ended up being hired as
a butler to a publishing family. He knew nothing about buttling
and had never encountered wealth on that scale. It wasn’t
merely a mansion, it was a mansion that had nine never used
guest rooms and a huge staff. The dining room table sat 24 at
its most reduced size. The couple entertained frequently, and
Madame wore jewels of such size that they formed breastplates
rather than necklaces. Two years was enough for him, he was
getting older and fun jobs didn’t hold the appeal they once
had. He looked around and saw Asia, an unexplored opportunity
for antiques and textiles. He went to Hong Kong and worked for a
man who was famous in the Afghan textile market. He saw Asian
arts and antiques. He was paid in Afghan weavings. He became
hooked on Asia, as he would soon discover.
He went back to the US and opened a shop in
his apartment in New Orleans. He went to Aspen and sold there,
too. But his mother was growing frail. Everybody should have the
dignity of living out their old age in their own home, and
Steven decided to put this belief into action. He moved to
Minneapolis and took care of his mother until she died. It was
hard, unpleasant work at times, but she had taken care of him as
an infant and he considered that equally hard work. He stopped
in the story to say how much he admires Asian cultures for the
way they care for their elders.
What happened next is that Steven came to
Chiang Mai on an antique buying trip and never went home. Chiang
Mai became his home. He adopted two children, never legally but
financially and emotionally, and they became his family. He
started Eastern Arts antiques and it thrived. The economic
downturn didn’t really affect antique exportation; people even
bought more because the dollar was worth more. But then it
happened. 9/11, SARS, bird flu, the bombing in Bali, on and on
the international disasters went and all of them affected
exports. As the western economy goes, so goes the export
business, and it was not good. But Steven loves antiques, and
stayed invested in that business.
Enter a new challenge. A company called Cizen
began to play around with a new sport. New sports don’t come
by everyday, but Speed Badminton was invented in Germany and is
making its way around the globe. Steven had marketing
experience. The fit was good. So the company reached out to
local schools, both Thai and International. They provided the
equipment and coaches without charge to twenty schools,
including Viengping Orphanage, the Boys’ Home, and the School
for the Deaf. Yuparach, PRC, CMIS, Payap International all
became involved in the sport. Steven learned to play, and the
introverted musician/artist/chef/textile expert also became the
Speed Badminton guy, the fellow who plays three hours a day,
He’s busy these days. He manages a collective of antique
stores, and is setting up his own shop at home to sell those
antiques and textiles that he’s spent a lifetime collecting.
And he works as a consultant to Cizen, marketing Speed
Badminton. While all are jobs, all are also pleasure. He has a
deep love for the Thai people, the Thai language. He’s found