Weekly Local Biography

  Local Personality

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, every 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 his home.